October 30, 2013

NBA To Dominate Winter Sports Scene

The East End professional sports scene could be drearier than usual this winter. Even though the Giants are just two games back in the NFC East, realistic fans understand Big Blue is far from a playoff team. The Jets have exceeded expectations at 4-4, but playing in January still seems like a long shot. The local hockey teams have been underwhelming so far.

The Devils took eight games to get their first win of the season. Ironically, that first win came against the Rangers, who opened their season with a 3-6 road trip. The Islanders appear to be a .500 team at best. With the struggle of our football and hockey squads, combined with the hype surrounding the Knicks and Nets, I expect hoops to be the only sport keeping our interest by December.  

After an offseason spending spree by owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Brooklyn Nets are the most intriguing team, on paper, in the NBA. The Nets traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics, and picked up Andrei Kirilenko as a free agent.

With those four joining an already solid core of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson, this team can compete with the Heat. But, it's also an enormous challenge to first year head coach Jason Kidd. His biggest test will be keeping Garnett, Pierce, and Terry fresh for the playoff push in April and May.

Not only can the Nets compete with the Heat, they have as good a chance as any team in the Eastern Conference to beat Miami in a seven game series. Garnett and Kirilenko will drastically improve a defense that was inconsistent last season. Garnett's length inside will help Brook Lopez, and Kirilenko is a fantastic perimeter defender.

Offensively, the Nets will be one of the deepest and most versatile teams in the league. But, with Williams missing most of the preseason with an ankle injury, the offense could require the early part of the regular season to gel.

Meantime, across the East River, the Knicks are trying to prove that last season's second seed in the East was no fluke. Compared to the Nets, the Knicks had a quiet offseason. New York's notable moves included resigning J.R. Smith, and bringing in Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace. But, injuries to Smith, Amare Stoudemire, and Iman Shumpert have the Knicks beginning the season with more question marks than many seem willing to admit.

Regardless, a team won't ever win a championship with Carmelo Anthony as the number one option. He doesn't make players around him better. Also, now that Anthony has opened Pandora's Box by stating his desire to become a free agent following the season, how does that affect the team chemistry?

Bargnani is an enormous talent, but one of the biggest enigmas in the game. J.R. Smith is a mini Carmelo. Add Metta World Peace to this team, and Coach Mike Woodson could have himself plenty of headaches.  

Due to the improvement of the Nets, Derrick Rose returning to the Bulls, and the Pacers with another year of experience, the Knicks fall down the food chain in the Eastern Conference. New York is not a contender to knock off the Heat in the East, and their ceiling is the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The lowest expectations for the Nets should be an appearance to the Eastern Conference finals. General Manager Billy King traded first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to Boston. They need to produce a deep postseason run to justify mortgaging the future.

I believe the leadership from Garnett and Pierce, both in the twilight of their respective careers, will help keep the team focused. Unfortunately, no team in the East will take down the Miami Heat. But, unlike the local hockey and football scene, at least with hoops, we'll be talking extended playoff runs.   

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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