Saturday, February 26, 2011

Could Prokhorov's War on the Knicks Be Misguided?

The question has been asked because he fired off another salvo.

What do you think of the NBA trading deadline?

Overall, no one expected this kind of activity, however there were two moves made by teams that were never truly rivals until one Mikhail Prokhorov showed up to Newark… err, Northern New Jersey.

See, the Gerald Wallace trade to Portland will be a huge lift for the Blazers and Kendrick Perkins was a major get by Oklahoma City. The Free Mo Williams Movement didn’t bring him back to LeBron James, but netting Blake Griffin and the Erics* (Bledsoe and at some point, Gordon) isn’t too shabby.

Yet, the move that has this Scribe a bit perplexed is how Deron Williams ended up on the Nets not to improve their playoff hopes (they’re 17-41), but to one-up the New York Knicks.

You heard that all of Prokhorov’s machinations leading to the trading deadline were to drive up the price for the Knicks’ eventual acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. Unquestionably, it worked as Knicks owner James Dolan was convinced to hover over team president Donnie Walsh to make it happen; compelling New York to give up about half of its active roster. Yet, when the Nets quietly traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and send some cash to the Utah Jazz for Williams, Prokhorov called a gangsta (or a G), labeled a genius and heralded as a badass.

Courtesy of
I was amused, then annoyed and eventually disgusted by the comparisons between both trades, both teams and both players. Williams has been my favorite point guard in the Association since he arrived. While the high wattage smile and Isiah Thomas comparisons made New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul the most beloved and automatic "best PG in the league" by salivating mainstream media, Williams has been equally, if not more impressive in some respects (a better scorer at that position).

Williams has had more playoff success and while the belief persists that Paul is better because he has less to work with; something has to be said about a young PG having to lead veteran players experienced in the iron-fisted system of former coach Jerry Sloan.

Yet, because of the media-spun Melodrama - there was more talk about the opinions and opinions of the opinions than what Anthony actually said publicly, which wasn't much - it seems as if people were quick to make the statements of how Williams is a better player than Anthony despite the fact that they play two entirely different positions and games.

Never mind that people were still slighting Williams because of the comparisons to the other great floor generals in the league today; Paul, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Boston’s Rajon Rondo and the old guard in Steve Nash & Jason Kidd. At least for a few days, he was given respect in a backhanded manner by people who decided that all things ‘Melo deserve an extra slice of derision.

Let’s be for real here; saying Deron Williams is better than Carmelo Anthony would have been akin to saying that Gary Payton was better than Scottie Pippen, despite different circumstances and demands on their styles.

That the Nets - a lottery team because of the lack of pieces to help Williams and Brook Lopez - made off better than the Knicks right now is a major stretch. There’s no doubt that players of those skill sets; whether a big PG with lead scorer ability or a SF with an array of offensive & rebounding gifts are not easy to find. Even more difficult is to anticipate that a franchise is going to find worthwhile players in the collegiate ranks, especially with the prevailing opinion that the 2011 draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory.

In fact, these deals proved that the cultures between the Nets and Knicks couldn’t be more different. The Knicks are trying to return to glory after a decade of front office debacles and player misery. The Nets, save for four years of unexpected bliss in the Kidd era, have spent most of its existence struggling for relevance from Long Island to East Rutherford to Newark.

It appears that Prokhorov is trying to bring a Yankees/Red Sox like war to NBA ball here in this area, yet he's approaching it the wrong way. You can afford to do that in other sports where there are more players, therefore more interchangeable pieces. In basketball, moving TWO rotational players (starters or top depth players) is a complete culture shock to a team.

Yes, Prokhorov is the more media savvy of the two NBA owners in this area. Some people love the idea of him being this badass Russian out of the mold of a Guy Ritchie film (could that be more stereotypical?) and starting a war with the Knicks. There is probably an actual plan towards building something around Williams, who despite just six seasons in the league, has missed the playoffs only once (his rookie season). However, trying to one up the rival for the sake of doing it is a far more dangerous gamble for a franchise with no roots.

Say What?!?!: * For those of us who remember the great Louis Sachar book, Sideway Stories from Wayside School, that Erics reference was for you.

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