With both teams capable of signing two max free agents, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are gearing up for an offseason showdown.
The summer of 2019 is shaping up to be the most important NBA offseason in nearly a decade. Unsurprisingly, both Big Apple residents will be aggressive in free agency. The on-court rivalry between the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks has been dormant for years, but they are about to square off in a battle to sign the most coveted free agents on the market.
It’s no secret that the Nets and Knicks were set for a collision course this offseason. However, Brooklyn’s trade of Allen Crabbe has thrown an interesting new wrinkle in free agency. The Nets have the cap space needed to sign two max free agents. This had long been one of the strongest bargaining chips held by the Knicks.
Essentially, the Knicks would look to use the second max slot as a way to entice a player like Kevin Durant to come to New York. The two-time NBA Finals MVP would be able to choose the Robin to his Batman. Would he rather play with Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker?
But now the Nets can make Durant, or a player like him, that same offer. Furthermore, the Nets have the option to sign two max free agents or sign one max and re-sign restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell. Either way, Nets general manager Sean Marks has officially evened the playing field with Brooklyn’s crosstown rival. In fact, it looks like the Nets may have a significant advantage over the Knicks this summer.
The Current Rosters
The Nets have a roster filled with excellent role players ready to coalesce around a superstar. The Knicks, on the other hand, have a roster filled with potential stars, but despite that potential, they are still a very young—and very unproven—squad.
Brooklyn’s core improved by leaps and bounds during the 2018-19 season. Joe Harris led the NBA in three-point percentage. Spencer Dinwiddie established himself as one of the best bench guys in the entire NBA. Jarrett Allen is slowly developing into a valuable rim-rinning big man. Not to mention, Caris LeVert flashed All-Star potential despite missing most of the season with a devastating injury. The addition of Taurean Prince adds another solid defender who can knock down open looks.
In short, the Nets are a readymade championship contender. That’s where Brooklyn’s pitch to free agents should start. This current Nets roster is ready to roll.
The Knicks have a solid collection of young talent and future draft picks. However, no major free agents are signing with the Knicks because they have two future first rounders from the Dallas Mavericks. If the Knicks truly want an edge over the Nets in free agency, they might need to flip some of those assets for Anthony Davis.
It would take some salary cap gymnastics to trade for Davis and sign two max free agents, but it’s possible. In this scenario, the Knicks would be a top-heavy team similar to the 2010 Miami Heat. Acquiring Davis prior to the start of free agency would be a major risk, but it could be the move that puts the Knicks back in the driver’s seat this summer.
The Intangible Factors
Do free agents value “culture” or “legacy” more? The Nets have built a reputation on their tremendous organizational culture. But while Brooklyn could be a more stable situation, the star that finally brings a championship to Madison Square Garden will be an absolute god in the city of New York.
Although it’s not something that’s easy to put a finger on, the Nets have clearly built a winning culture in Brooklyn. Head coach Kenny Atkinson was able to rally his squad after constant gut punches last season. The Nets were subject to brutal injuries, debilitating losing streaks, and just about everything in between.
But somehow, Atkinson was able to guide Brooklyn to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Any free agent looking to go into a stable situation will love what the Nets have to offer.
The Knicks situation is far less stable than that of Brooklyn’s. But the chance to have a legacy-defining moment for the Knicks could be enough to sway a max free agent. It’s tough to figure out how much culture and legacy will affect free agency, but they are undeniable factors all the same.
The world has spent obsessing over every little thing hoping to glean some insight into 2019 free agency. But at this point in time, no one knows what is going to happen on June 30. Right now, teams are jockeying for position. The Nets are in prime position to outflank the Knicks, but nothing is certain yet.
Whatever happens, the Nets and Knicks are going to be trading punches this offseason. And in a weird way, the crosstown rivalry feels like it’s back.