NBA Daily: Knicks and Nets Taking Different Paths to the Same Goal

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Entering the 2018-19 season, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets appeared to be in very similar situations. They were both focused on developing their young talent and neither team seemed overly invested in immediate success. Both clearly have aspirations of signing a superstar free agent in the summer of 2019 and both have their share of players on one-year or expiring deals.

But fast forward 33 games into the season and we see two very different narratives playing out in the Boroughs of New York City.

On the one hand, there’s the Nets who are currently on a seven-game winning streak – throughout which, they have quality wins against the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and – most recently – the Los Angeles Lakers.  And then there’s the Knicks, who have lost eight of their last 10 games – five of which have been by 10 or more points.

The Nets have played themselves into playoff contention through grit and teamwork. They are only a half of a game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and a shocking two games back from the sixth spot.

And for that, they have their entire roster to thank. D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and even Jared Dudley have come up big over the last seven games. Over the course of the recent winning streak, they have had at least five players score in double figures in six of those seven games, with Russell and Dinwiddie taking turns leading the team in scoring.

But the Nets players are not satisfied with merely proving naysayers wrong. D’Angelo Russell had this to say following the Lakers game on Tuesday night.

“It’s a great feeling,” Russell said. “I’ve personally never been in that position, at this level, to win six in a row. (But we’re) definitely not satisfied, you know. We need to give ourselves a chance to keep it going. Streaks end eventually, but we want to keep it rolling.”

Across the city, the Knicks are experiencing growing pains. While they are embracing their youth movement and rolling with whatever comes as a result, the Knicks have clearly hit a rough patch of late.

However, the silver lining is that their young guys are stepping up, even if it doesn’t result in wins – Allonzo Trier is averaging 11.3 points in 23.3 minutes per game, Mitchell Robinson is averaging 9.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36-minutes, Kevin Knox has scored at least 15 in each of his last six games (and broken 20 points in three of his last six) and even Frank Ntilikina posted a few inspiring performances since being benched in early December.

But which New York team is in better shape for the future? That’s a challenging question to answer. Each team seems to want different things from the 2018-19 season. With the Knicks’ best player (Kristaps Porzingis) out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury suffered last season, they would prefer to get their young guns in-game experience while securing the best possible 2019 draft pick. If they land a top-three pick, they could add a game-changer to a roster that is already filled with young talent.

But the Nets want more form 2018-19. While this will be the first time since 2013 that the Nets control their own first-round draft pick, the Nets are banking on developing talent now instead of solely relying on adding additional talent in June.  And there are few – if any – better teachers than playoff experience.

Neither plan of attack is necessarily wrong. And both should yield the results each team is hoping for. And interestingly, both will be vying for the same thing come this summer – a superstar free agent addition to cement what they’ve already built. With the free agent pool dwindling (Kyrie Irving verbally committed to re-sign in Boston, Jimmy Butler said he would re-sign in Philadelphia shortly after being traded there if offered the super-max), how many difference makers will be left come July 2019? It could realistically come down to Kevin Durant (and possibly Kemba Walker, who has been coy in speaking about changing teams, and who is also super-max eligible.)

If that’s the case, the Knicks and Nets will present their respective strategies and courses of action in the offseason. Their paths will be different, as will their rosters and their respective experiences, but which franchise ultimately wins out, if either? Only time will tell.