When it Comes to Knicks and Nets, New York is the Rotten Apple

And here you thought the pro football in New York was pretty lousy.

But have you checked out our two NBA teams lately?

The Knicks and Nets are worse than the Jets and Giants, but the reason they have more wins than their football brethren (10 vs. 5) is because that they get to play the Philadelphia 76ers.

Deron Williams, one of the Nets’ legion of overpaid, underachieving stars, called out his teammates the other day, saying they’re playing like “zombies.’’

Not to be outdone, the Knicks have been the walking dead, too.
Here we are more than a month into the season and neither Derek Fisher’s Knicks nor Lionel Hollins' Nets have won a game against a team with a winning record. And this is the Mecca of Basketball?

So tonight in the Garden it’s the Big Rotten Apple Classic when Carmelo Anthony, gimpy back and all, tries to lead his four-win team over the worst team a lot of Russian rubles can buy.

The Nets came into the season boasting the No. 1 payroll in the entire NBA and that was even after Mikhail Prokhorov let Paul Pierce walk because the Russian billionaire did not want to see another $30 million added to his already inflated tax bill. Comrades, that pretty much signaled that “Proky’’ isn’t long for owning this team.

Losers of seven of their last nine games, the Nets are not top-ranked in anything -- especially rebounding, where they get regularly pounded despite having 7-foot center Brook Lopez. The team-wide lack of athleticism only exacerbates the problems for Hollins, who can’t get this team to remotely resemble the tough-minded, defense-first Memphis Grizzlies he led to the West Finals in 2013.

Things have been so bad in Brooklyn that GM Billy King isn’t so sure that the team he assembled, around a core of Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson, can amount to much of anything in their third season together. Normally fairly optimistic, King only offered a tepid, "We’ll see."

But the Nets, who almost lost to the winless Sixers last week, had better turn things around, for King’s sake. With their humongous payroll and luxury tax bill topping out at around $130 million, they expected to make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.

King admits he’s been working the phones on potential trades, while seeming to give this collection of players one last chance to get their act together.

“This group has proved that they can play good basketball, and so at this point, it’s up to them to figure it out, how to play better,” King told reporters on Monday.

At least the Nets can hang their hats on that. The Knicks have figured out only one thing during Fisher’s first season coaching in the NBA: How to lose and look awful doing it.

We’re still waiting for Fisher to criticize even a ballboy. He’s looked totally overmatched on the sidelines, even if half of New York thinks this is all about his team’s failure to adjust to Phil Jackson’s vaunted Triangle offense.

The Knicks’ roster problems, major as they are, don’t begin to address the fact that the team lacks passion and energy on most nights. It’s something that Hollins has seen from his own team, much to his amazement.

The sight of the Nets should bring out the passion for the Knicks, and vice versa, but as Hollins admitted, “we’ll see. It’s kinda odd that we’re in a stage in our society where competing and playing hard is to be commended, when there was a time that nobody played that didn’t play hard. That’s why you play, but we’re in a different stage of society.”

Knicks fans wish they were in a different stage of this Phil Jackson rebuilding program. It’s his first season and the $60-million savior has yet to make any signature moves that will turn this franchise’s fortunes around.

Yes, he did get Anthony to return _ showing him $124 million made it the easiest signing Jackson will ever have as team president. But even ‘Melo has not made a bit of difference, as far as the won-loss record goes.

At one time, a Knicks-Nets game meant something and brought some juice to the Garden. Not tonight, though.

“It did at one point,” Anthony said. “It will. This is New York. At the end of day we still have something to prove and they have something to prove. It’s not a rivalry yet. We both have our own situations. We’re not worried about Brooklyn and they’re not worried about us.”

But if you’re a fan of the Knicks or Nets, you should be very worried about the state of pro basketball in New York, pitiful as it is.

Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 21 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.

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