Paul Pierce and J.R. Smith spent a great part of their summer going back and forth through the media about which of New York City's NBA teams will have a more successful season. In the end, the answer as to who may depend on how one gauges a successful season.
On paper, the Nets seems to be a more talented team, but last year's Lakers are the most recent example that talent does not always triumph. As he stood before the media at Barclays Center, Pierce went on a miniature diatribe when asked how important it was for the Nets to win the Atlantic Division.
"Not important, at all," he said before claiming that he did not even want to see a banner at Barclays Center commemorating the theoretical division title that the Nets could win even though Pierce has no interest in it.
And here is the thing: Pierce probably knows that the Nets cannot approach the season with winning the Atlantic Division as their goal, because the blind pursuit of that may ultimately end up with the Nets being burnt out and ousted early once the playoffs begin next April. So right here, right now, if asked by the basketball gods to choose between winning the division or advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, the decision would be easy, no? In Pierce's mind it is, and reasonably so.
For those taken aback by my prediction that the New York Knicks will repeat as division champions, my reasoning is two-fold. The Knicks have gotten younger, deeper, and better defensively when compared to the team that lost to the Indiana Pacers in last season's playoffs. And to these Nets, winning the division is not important. It will not be a priority, and the lack of urgency will ultimately show on the court, especially in midseason games against the likes of the Bucks, Pistons, Raptors, and other lower-echelon teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets are likely to cede the division with a bigger goal in mind; their sights set on potentially battling the Knicks in the playoffs. A match up in the first round as the four and five seeds is possible for these two teams, as is a second round matchup as the two and three seeds. And those potential late-April (or early May) match ups are what Pierce is concerned with, not anything prior. Should the basketball gods smile upon us and give New York City and the NBA such a match up, it is one the Nets may be equipped to win.
As it stands, the Nets have quite a few defenders who can challenge Carmelo Anthony in different ways. If he is guarded by Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Pierce, and/or Reggie Evans, it may be difficult for him to be as efficient as he would need to be to defeat a fully healthy Nets team. If Anthony plays primarily as a power forward, he would face a number of challenges should Jason Kidd plays his cards right.
The Knicks probably have better guard depth than the Nets, but will need highly efficient play from both Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith. They would need to hold their own against Deron Williams and Joe Johnson...and that would be no easy task. Though Beno Udrih, Iman Shumpert, and perhaps even Tim Hardaway, Jr., could turn the tide in the Knicks' favor, it would be quite difficult. In the end, the Nets would prevail in a seven games series.
With the preseason having just begun, many will rightfully point out that it is too early to be making plans for April or May. That may be true. But here, in October and November, for this older Nets team, foresight is necessary. And as the Nets begin their long odyssey toward a potential NBA Finals appearance, you best bet that is exactly where Pierce's mind is.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv, contributing to both SNYNets.com and TheKnicksBlog.com.