The conventional narrative heading into NBA free agency last summer had maximum-salary stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant ticketed to join the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a package deal, so, when they chose the Nets on the other side of the East River in Brooklyn, it came as a shock. To Nets fans, it seemed like validation after years of playing second fiddle in the New York market.
Recognizing a dramatic opportunity, the NBA schedule-maker picked the second game of the new season to match the Knicks and Nets Friday night at Barclays Center. By some coincidence, the Nets chose that game for an Irving jersey giveaway, and the fact he scored 50 in the opener, which set an NBA record for a player making his debut with a franchise, just adds to the Kyrie-KD envy Knicks fans might be experiencing.
Asked if the Nets might be trolling the Knicks with the Irving memorabilia giveaway, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson rolled his eyes and said, “I have nothing to do with the marketing. They don’t ask me anything.”
As for the notion that the outlier Nets stole Irving and Durant from the establishment Knicks, Atkinson said, “I think that’s quite honestly childish if you look at it that way. I think we were fortunate, and I think things went our way. But I don’t [say], ‘Oh, we’re better than you, we did it better than you.’ I just think two guys read a situation and made a decision.”
Irving was not made available to the media after Thursday’s abbreviated workout, and Durant will not be available for as long as he is in rehab for Achilles tendon surgery. But Spencer Dinwiddie, who frequently engages with Knicks fans in a fun-loving way on social media, said he “has no problem fanning the flame” of the Nets-Knicks rivalry, though he made it clear the Nets’ priority is to get their first win after a one-point overtime loss to the Timberwolves.
Dinwiddie acknowledged satisfaction about the Nets landing Irving and Durant ahead of the Knicks, but he added, “I don’t know if Kyrie has any explicit feelings towards the Knicks. He may not. I mean, he’s here.
“The Knicks fans probably have explicit feelings. It’s hard to get a bead on them sometimes. I’m not an expert psychologist, or better yet, psychiatrist. So, if you’re in the mind of a Knicks fan, it seems easy, I guess, on the surface, but to truly understand the labyrinth that it is is a much more complicated process that I don’t have the time nor energy to devote.”
The added drama of Irving’s magical debut should add electricity to the atmosphere Friday night. He not only scored 50 but added eight rebounds, seven assists and had no turnovers.
Asked how the rest of the Nets reacted to that display, Dinwiddie began laughing uncontrollably. “I mean, it was phenomenal,” he said. “Fifty points. He scored 50. We were like, ‘Damn.’ For real. You guys are laughing, so it’s making me laugh. But I’m so serious, we were like, ‘Whoa, this is amazing!’”
Center DeAndre Jordan, who finished last season with the Knicks before signing with the Nets at the urging of Irving and Durant, said that pair “chose to play here over a lot of other places, too, not just the Knicks.”
While the rivalry talk might fuel fan passions, Jordan emphasized players must keep it in perspective and be professional in terms of understanding one game is no more important than another in the standings.
“This is a Knicks town,” Jordan said. “We understand that. When I was playing for the Clippers, we understood [Los Angeles] was a Lakers town…If we’re worried about beating one team, we’re in a bad place.
“The Knicks are another Eastern Conference opponent. They’re a team we need to beat, and I’m pretty sure they’re thinking the same thing. We don’t want to get too involved in a rivalry because that’s when you come out and get your [butt] kicked.”