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The Inbounds: The new Brooklyn Empire and the Crown of Relevance

Jul 16, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

Brooklyn Nets logo

Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Sometime last Wednesday, after yet another round on Twitter battling the Brooklyn faithful (and they are a faithful lot for a franchise that hasn’t played a single minute in its current city) about Brook Lopez and his max contract, about the efforts to remake the team and the failed attempt at obtaining Dwight Howard, I came to a pretty startling conclusion. The Nets are perfect for sports and the people who love them. There are more compelling stories in the NBA. LeBron James and his ongoing battle to save his basketball soul. Kobe Bryant and his continuing obsession with matching Jordan. The Thunder and the hope of tomorrow vs. the empty optimism of a future which may never come.

But the Nets? They are perfect for everything we love about the NBA and about sports. Because they will provide endless hours for us to develop and express opinions about a dozen different things.

They’re a superstar team without superstars. Deron Williams is a top-five point guard in this league who will flirt nightly with the tag of best-to-second-best. But Joe Johnson? Gerald Wallace? Brook Lopez? You have to love basketball to know these names. Yet if you do, you understand how good they really are. Johnson’s contract alone is enough for hours of debate. No one can argue he’s worth the money but if you factor in the fact that the Nets don’t really care how much he costs, at some point once you’re over the luxury tax line it’s irrelevant how much more he costs. And he’s an underrated defender who can guard 1’s, 2’s and 3’s in this league, defend in the post and on the perimeter, can body and bang and contain on the fly. He can also stop his own offense dead in its tracks with his insistence on isolation possessions that involve a lot of dribbling, a lot of contested jumpers, and not a lot of points. He’ll have nights where he lights up the opponent and nights where his own team goes down in the crossfire. It’s perfect for starting a screaming match between any two people.

Gerald Wallace is an underground icon, the guy named “Crash” whose stat-stuffing exploits were best illustrated in the basketball must-read “FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.”  He’s another level, and yet on the level which you can observe with the eye, he seems almost invisible. He’s the hidden play, the quiet moment, master of the “little things which help win games.” And Brook Lopez is the center who can score 30 points but can’t grab eight rebounds. Every accomplishment can be marred with criticism, every criticism can be marred with praise. It’s all there.

And they enter a new arena in the world’s most famous city, ready to strike up a rivalry with the most iconic team on the East Coast (apologies to the greater Boston Celtics, it’s more the Knicks’ failures and your quiet success that trumpet them so loudly). Let’s not be confused on this point. This rivalry will be real from the start.  The Knicks will play big brother and play it off, but they’re not good enough to dismiss the Nets, and the Nets are fighting to establish themselves as legitimate in the boroughs. They even match up well, with no one able to defend Deron Williams, but Williams’ mentor Jason Kidd on the other sideline, the Knicks with defensive ace Iman Shumpert (when he returns from injury) to take on Johnson and the Nets with Wallace to throw at Carmelo Anthony. The Nets have no one to defend Amar’e Stoudemire, but Stoudemire often gets in his own way with injury and defensive issues. The high scoring, no rebound, poor defense center who can score from anywhere on anyone versus the consummate defensive force at the rim. Throw in some young talent and veteran difference makers and you have everything you need. All four matchups next season will be must-watch, even as both teams could be fully embroiled in turmoil and in full disintegration at any point, only to rise from the ashes. God help us if we get a Nets/Knicks-Knicks/Nets 4-5 matchup in the East.

There are questions about how the Nets went about clearing out the populace for the Barclays Center, questions about Dolan’s price gouging, questions about Billy King’s decision making, about how CAA runs the Knicks, are the Nets a real superstar team, is Carmelo Anthony a player you can win with. It’s a whole Baz Luhrmann flick on hardwood.

The Nets will be the best thing anything in sports can be, divisive. You’ll think they don’t get enough credit for how good they are or that they are total frauds masquerading as a Finals contender. Is Brook Lopez a great scorer or a poor rebounder? What happens in three years when the salaries are out of control? What about Dwight Howard?

What about Dwight Howard?

The Nets are going to be a great team next year, even without the big guy. Johnson and Williams will make for a 1-2 pick and roll that’s going to just kill opponents, and with Wallace crashing the weakside and Lopez as the outlet, they’re going to put up points. They have this new color scheme which is as provocative as it is vintage, recalling the styles of the 40’s barnstorming teams and yet reminiscent of the style of minority owner Jay-Z.

The owner is a billionaire Russian who ran for President in Russia and said he’d beat up Mark Cuban in a kickboxing match, for crying out loud. This story has everything.

So while Nets fans try and shoehorn their team into the title contenders conversation and the rest of us try and explain just how limited their options are going to be in three years and how Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are not worth the money, the NBA and the Nets win.

You want to know the biggest reason why Billy King won the offseason, why the Nets get an A for their summer?

The Nets, more so than even during their stretch of Finals contention, are relevant. They matter. They aren’t dominant enough for us to just accept, they aren’t mediocre enough for us to ignore. They’re just a really good basketball team looking to rewrite history.

This is going to be fun.

  1. 76erer - Jul 16, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Name 4 pgs better than Deron Williams. Chris Paul……..?????

  2. lookitsgreen - Jul 16, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    “God help us if we get a Nets/Knicks-Knicks/Nets 4-5 matchup in the East”

    LOL they are still the Knicks and Nets… No chance.

  3. thesixersbench - Jul 16, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    I know you were trying to make a point for the sake of your article, but there is no way in hell the Knicks get top billing over the Celtics when referencing iconic East Coast franchises. It’s Celtics/Lakers…then everybody else.

    And this comes from a Sixers fan.

  4. mat9844 - Jul 16, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    I totally agree; for anyone who just simply loves the game, this rivalry should be a lot of fun. Let the games begin!!

  5. magicbucs - Jul 16, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    Looks like Matt is on his knees for the nets.

    • slopmcflop - Jul 16, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      Article shedding positive light on a team? WHAT A HOMER.

      Article being critical of a team? WHAT A HATER.

      And no inbetween, apparently, according to the comments on this site.

  6. scalfor3 - Jul 16, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    um…they kept last years team and added joe johnson. i really dont get the amount of slobbering going on here

    • Kevin S. - Jul 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

      Are we pretending that Brook Lopez played more than five games for the Nets last year? That Gerald Wallace played more than sixteen? That Deron Williams isn’t better when he has legitimate players who can finish what he sets up for them?

      • qwertify - Jul 16, 2012 at 11:57 AM

        What Kevin S. said, plus they have a deeper bench now with the addition of Reggie Evans, CJ Watson, and that top player from Europe named Teletovic I think?

      • Kevin S. - Jul 16, 2012 at 12:32 PM

        Exactly. One could argue that Farmar to Watson is a lateral move at the backup point, but you’re giving Anthony Morrow’s minutes to Joe Johnson, DeShawn Stevenson’s minutes to Gerald Wallace, Johan Petro’s minutes to Brook Lopez, Shelden and Jordan Williams’ minutes to Mirza Teletovic. That’s a massive upgrade.

  7. rotaylla - Jul 16, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    cant wait for that match up to happen…

  8. sabanissatan - Jul 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    “…and yet reminiscent of minority owner Jay-Z.” Sounds punny

  9. phaden27 - Jul 16, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I guess I know who’s articles to read on this site when I need a good laugh. Seriously though, the team was repainted, moved to a new home, and added Joe ‘Look at my contract’ Johnson. If anyone should be excited for the Nets next season, it’s the entire Atlantic division.

  10. baron30 - Jul 16, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    how come no mention of Brooklyn adding one of Europe’s top players in Mirza Teletović?

  11. philtration - Jul 16, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    When will the NBA and sites just like this one stop pretending that the Knicks and New York are somehow the Mecca of basketball?
    They have not won a title in 40 years.

    • knightrider1755 - Jul 16, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      Yeah really. It seems like that title should be bestowed on the city of Boston.

    • Great Caesar's Ghost - Jul 16, 2012 at 8:43 PM

  12. detroitcityryda - Jul 16, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Don’t count out teletovic he’s looked as a top European player he’s very stocky and goes hard in the paint just what the nets lack ,a lil history lesson he also hails from Bosnia which is part of the ex-Yugo a land known to inhibit the tallest European people the Illyrians whose gene still resides in the population today ,the land which has given us the top talent from divac ,drazen petrovic,Toni kukoc ,stojakovic ,yes Darko too and many more.

  13. newyorkfootballjets - Jul 16, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    The nets have no chance to get out of the first round if they even make the playoffs

  14. markeygods111 - Jul 16, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    I black & white.

  15. markeygods111 - Jul 16, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Hello Brooklyn in Black & White NBA.
    I Love New York City.

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