The Basketball Arms Race Is On

Nets miss on Dwight Howard in escalating New York basketball arms race

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Basketball City is back in a big way.

    There are two kinds of sports rivalries, the real ones and the one-sided ones.

    You know all of the real ones -- Yankees/Red Sox, Ravens/Steelers, Auburn/Alabama -- because they are largely inescapable thanks to the hype machine that always puts their games in prime position.

    The other ones are more interesting, though, because they feature one team that thinks they are in a rivalry and one team that is blissfully ignorant of such a state of affairs.

    Michigan State has that with Michigan, the Devils had one for a long time with the Rangers and the Nets have always had one with the Knicks. The Nets talked about challenging for the top spot in the area, but they never threatened the Knicks' superiority even when they were a much better team going to to the NBA Finals.

    They talked a lot about the move to Brooklyn leveling the playing field, but it felt like nothing but more hot air from an owner who promised to win a title and then signed Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw to facilitate that quest. After their first offseason with a flag planted in Kings County, though, they at least seem to be heading in the right direction.

    Dwight Howard isn't coming, at least not until midseason when the Nets can resume attempts to get the league's best center in a trade for a seven-footer who refuses to rebound, and that was the only way the Nets could seriously challenge for the top spot.

    New York likes winners, but they love winners with personality and (assuming he re-signs) the Nets' biggest personality is Kris Humphries and people only know him because he was willing to make a little money by marrying someone for a reality show.

    So it is still the Knicks' town and probably would have remained that way even if Howard had arrived on the scene. It's been a Knicks town for far too long to change overnight, especially when the Knicks have their own mix of actual basketball stars (Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler) and attractions that are sometimes tangential to basketball (Jeremy Lin).

    And they are going to keep working to add players in both categories now that the Nets have signaled their intention to be something more than a punchline. Winning is going to be crucial to the Knicks staying on top and it is essential to the Nets passing them by, which means frenzied offseasons are going to be the norm.

    Some people will complain that it is no way to build a team and that there's no foundation laid for the future when you chase free agents with more age than a fine Cabernet (35-year-old Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni will join Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd at Early Birds with the Knicks) and trade for Joe Johnson's impractical joke of a contract.

    The foundation part is true, but the NBA has exactly two elite teams (the Thunder and Spurs) built without splashy moves outside the organization and both lucked into drafting superstars to kick off the movement. 

    Given the way the NBA is currently structured, free agency and trades for stars looking for new surroundings will always offer more certainty, if not more upside because there's nothing quite like a 20-year-old megatalent, than rolling the dice on the draft.

    With the Anthony and Deron Williams trades, the Knicks and Nets made it clear that they are comfortable operating that way and they will continue to operate that way until the rules change or either team gets an owner that cares even a little bit about how much the whole thing costs. 

    That might not bring any banners to town, but it is going to keep things interesting in the days, months and years to come as the teams jockey with each other as much as they do with the Heat, Celtics and Pacers. That makes this first offseason with two New York basketball teams a winner and, hopefully, makes for two winners when they actually get on the court.

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    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.