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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Nets shouldn't be the team to break New York's pro title drought

Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) gathers with guard

Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) gathers with guard James Harden (13) and forward Kevin Durant during the second half against Golden State in San Francisco on Feb. 13. Credit: AP / Jeff Chiu

I do not want the Nets to win the NBA championship. Is it OK to say that out loud? I suppose I just did.

If the New York area is at last to have its decade-long pro championship drought end this calendar year, let it be the Islanders, Yankees or Mets — the three other leading contenders.

To be clear, I do not mean this in a fandom sense. I last rooted for (or against) a local professional team as a fan rather than a curmudgeonly sportswriter on Oct. 27, 1986.

And I have nothing against the Nets, their players or especially their fans. I was once among them, all-in at Game 7 of the 1976 ABA semifinals against the hated Spurs at Nassau Coliseum. (Ask your grandparents.)

But these Nets feel . . . off. Having them win it all would make for a clunky dramatic narrative.

Would seeing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden lift the trophy at Barclays Center — or maybe in Salt Lake City — be as satisfying as watching a homegrown veteran such as Josh Bailey, Aaron Judge or Jacob deGrom do it? Um, no.

Sure, other teams have key players who arrived from elsewhere via free agency or trades, but let’s be real: The Nets are a bizarre amalgam of high-maintenance contracts and high-maintenance personalities.

And high name recognition, of course. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge? Sure, why not? Join the club!

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to these Nets’ challenge of bonding with the city, a dynamic that is familiar to many businesses as they try to integrate new employees in an era of little or no face-to-face contact.

The Big 3 never have played together in non-pandemic times before an arena full of supporters.

The whole thing is weird. The Nets are a bigger story nationally than they are locally.

So them becoming the first metropolitan-area team to win it all since the Giants on Feb. 5, 2012 — the longest such drought in a century — would not be ideal.

The trouble is the Nets have the best chance to get it done. In a highly unscientific Twitter poll on Friday, I asked which team would break New York’s championship drought this year from among the Nets, Islanders, Mets and Yankees.

(Yes, the Knicks and Rangers also are in playoff contention, but Twitter allows only four options in its polls.)

As of mid-morning, the Nets and Islanders were neck-and-neck, well ahead of the baseball teams.

My vote would go to the team that stayed in Brooklyn, partly because of its roster and partly because the NBA playoffs are far more predictable than those in hockey or baseball.

The odds of the Islanders, Yankees or Mets losing in the first round are far better than of the Nets doing so, pending which of their players is in the mood to show up for work early in the postseason.

They will not see the Eastern teams that could beat them — the Bucks or 76ers — until the conference finals.

Look, it could be exciting to watch a deep playoff run, and perhaps by then arenas will be full of fans, and those fans will get a chance to bond with these vagabonds.

Having the Nets and Lakers meet in the championship round would be marketing and viewership gold for the NBA and its friends at ESPN/ABC.

It likely would generate better national TV ratings than anything hockey or baseball can come up with, something the league could use after last year’s viewership downer in the Orlando bubble.

So the race is on to mid-July, when the NHL and NBA will settle matters for 2020-21. It would be a better story if the Islanders beat the Nets to it.

New York Sports