New York City is and always will be a mecca of basketball. The game's dualistic obsession with aesthetics and efficiency mark it as a sporting encapsulation of NYC's own high/low confliction -- basketball is simply as New York as it gets. Which only brings into monolithic relief the metastasizing, bile-dense state of professional basketball in the city.
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are not just terrible teams, but teams run with such spectacular, transcendent incompetence that they've become event horizons unto themselves. All who enter the collective gravitational pull, be it player or staff or, God help you, fan, have no hope of escaping the suck. It's that bad, and it's all because they want to Win Now.
The latest apotheosis of this principle played out when Toronto Raptors general manager slash roster chess grandmaster Masai Ujiri began shopping point guard Kyle Lowry. It is important to note that making a trade of any kind with Ujiri comes with a virtual guarantee that he will make you run the jewels. The Knicks know this because Ujiri made them run the jewels in an off-season trade that cost them a future first-round pick and two future second-round picks. For this, the Knicks got Andrea Bargnani and his career PER of 14.4, which, oof.
But anyway, there are reports that both the Knicks and Nets are interested suitors for Lowry because Lowry is an above-average player and a Win Now team is always interested in above-average players. The problems inherent to either team holding a Win Now philosophy became clear when the Raptors reached an agreement with the Knicks that would have netted them Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and either Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. or, wait for it, a first-round pick. A first-round pick in 2018, because the Knicks have already traded away all of their preceding first-round picks in pursuit of a Win Now strategy.
However, according to Frank Isola, the deal was nixed by Knicks owner James Dolan, presumably out of fear that Ujiri would find a way to end up the Lord Grand Marshall Imperial of Madison Square Garden, or something. Now the door is open for the Nets to concoct an equally ill-considered trade as the Knicks' front office negotiates the dissociative fugue state that is working for Dolan. This is what it means to Win Now for both teams, and it's not the first example of how that philosophy has come to signify little more than a glorified pissing match between the khaki'ed-up armies of two diametrically opposed oligarchs. The most instructive came at the very beginning.
It began in 2010 with both teams getting sonned by the Miami Heat's infamous free-agent coup d'etat windfall of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- the three best free agents in a stacked class. What was supposed to be the year that saw these teams execute a Win Now strategy turned into unknowing performance art on how little they understand the strategy itself. A Win Now strategy demands something more than an excess of money and a willingness to spend it in conspicuous fashion. It requires being in a position to win. Now is as good a time as any to note that the Knicks are 6-16, while the Nets stand at 8-15. No one has any reason to believe it will get any better.
The recurring self-inflicted traumas of what came after LeBron took his talents to South Beach are what make ongoing failure such a certainty. The Knicks mortgaged their future in a trade for Carmelo Anthony and the Nets did the same in trading for Deron Williams. While both teams needed franchise players to Win Now, what they got were good players who are never going to be the No. 1 option on a title-winning team. Sure, Anthony is one of the best pure scorers of his generation, but his commitment to all other aspects of the game is in a state of perpetually inconvenient vacillation. Williams, meanwhile, is regressing toward becoming a league average player at a deep position, which is not so good for your team when you're in the second year of five-year, $98.7 million contract. Anthony only has two years left on his deal, but has said he will opt out of his final year and join the 2014 free-agent class. In other words, both teams gave up quality players and draft picks for franchise players who may no longer be of much value to them beyond their purely symbolic status as franchise players. We haven't even gotten into the other mistakes yet.
Whether it's the Knicks pulling a dump truck full of money up to Amar'e Stoudemire and his Lego knees or the Nets trading five players and a first-round draft pick for Joe Johnson's stupid-dumb six-year, $119 million blood oath, it's hard to hand out any front office gold stars. However, this assumes the front office is fully to blame, which it isn't. When teams spend this much money and make this many moves and end up this unconscionably hopeless, there is always an owner behind it all.
While Dolan gets all the headlines in this matter, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is, if not guilty of the same sins, at least some variation thereof. If anything, they've succeeded in lighting the tycoon's insecurities that mar the modern histories of each franchise. Their mutual dislike is well-known and from that dislike has emerged a bizarre game of brinkmanship where neither side succeeds in gaining anything resembling an advantage. Every big-money deal made by one side must be answered by the other because that's what egotistical rich dudes do: They hoard money so that they can then show off how much money they have. New York basketball now functions as the whitest Cash Money Records music video of all-time.
What Prokhorov and Dolan have done here is its own brand of remarkable when viewed with the right lens. After all, they did say they wanted to Win Now, and they are doing just that. The problem is that they were terribly misunderstood. Dolan and Prokhorov don't want to win an NBA championship -- they just want to prove that they can spend the most money. That's what winning is to these people. All that's left to hope for is that someone goes broke along the way.