First, the latter: The word “Knicks” was not mentioned one single time. It would have been like being at a wine-tasting, and uttering the word “Thunderbird.” No bigger sign of disrespect than treating an adversary as though it does not exist.
Because in the new world of the Nets, the only other team that merits mention, the only other team that is in their crosshairs are the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (and a couple other legitimate Eastern Conference contenders.)
The Knicks will be a mosquito to these Nets. The Heat will be a spider. Or a swarm of gnats.
You can kill a mosquito with a well-timed swat. But those other bugs take some work to exterminate, and the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets are clearly ready to do an awful lot of killing awfully quickly.
As you sat watching and listening to Thursday afternoon’s introductory press conference at the Barclays Center for newly acquired stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, you got the clear and unmistakable impression that the Brooklynites are all about winning an NBA championship right now.
See, it’s no longer about this intra-city rivalry for this franchise. It’s about much bigger, much better things.
It’s still “sinking in,” Pierce said, “and I’m liking what I feel right now.”
Garnett and Pierce talked about stacking up against Miami, Chicago and Indiana, not New York. It was an omission noted by many inside the arena, and one that sends a clear message to the rest of the league — and the New York metropolitan area.
Despite looking out of sorts at the press conference after 15 seasons with the Celtics, Pierce said that his ultimate desire was to win a second championship, and he and Garnett felt that Brooklyn was the best place to make that possible. Pierce then said he knew that Billy King’s Nets had the ingredients to win a title, and it was all about jelling and putting it all together.
The Nets certainly have the depth and talent to compete with anyone in the league. To bring Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson together with Pierce, Garnett . Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko gives Brooklyn an incredibly strong core. But with all those great players come larger-than-life egos — and smaller-than-needed intensity levels — that need to be managed and manipulated.
So with the determination and fire in his eyes that has made him one of the greatest power forwards to ever play this game, Garnett said that the difference between champions and contenders came down to just one word: “sacrifice.”
“You have to be willing to do what you don’t normally do,” Garnett said. “Instead of coming in and taking 25 shots, you take 12 or less shots. And then you have to put forth the effort to play defense. These are the things, to me, that make the difference for championship teams.”
One year ago, Williams was introduced to the world as the face of the Nets’ franchise. He now has to share that spotlight with two of the best players of the modern era. Lopez now has to share the interior scoring load with Garnett. Nobody is going to get a consistent amount of shots anymore, as Garnett mentioned. Individual statistics and accolades need to go by the wayside for this team to not just compete with the best teams, but to eclipse them and ultimately fulfill owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s five-year championship promise (you knew it was a big day when Prokhorov showed up at the end of the presser).
Remember, when Prokhorov purchased the Nets he promised a championship within five years. That window is now closing, and Prokhorov said he would disavow lifelong bachelorhood if he failed to deliver.
So the big fella has a lot riding on this upcoming season.
Terry, who the Nets also acquired in its mega blockbuster with Boston and was also at the press conference, completes the trio of new Nets who have all won NBA championships. In fact, they’re the only three players on the Nets roster who have ever won a title.
It’s not a secret that Williams and Lopez are considered soft players around the league. Williams has gained a reputation for being spoiled and coddled after running two highly respected coaches in Jerry Sloan and Avery Johnson out of town(s). Lopez has gained a reputation for being allergic to really getting after it in the low post. Johnson has a reputation for being little more than a volume shooter. It will be Garnett and Pierce who will try to instill the character, toughness and resolve needed to win it all.
While nobody at the press conference openly admitted to the team having its sights set on Miami, Terry very readily pointed out to SheridanHoops that the current Heat team is virtually the same team that lost to the Dallas Mavericks team led by Terry and new coach Jason Kidd in the backcourt.
Kidd mentioned at the press conference that he won’t hesitate to sit Garnett or Pierce for a regular season game if it means they’ll be more fresh and prepared for the postseason. When I mentioned that this is what Gregg Popovich does with San Antonio, Terry quickly mentioned that “Miami did it [last season] also.”
Terry was sure to mention that Kidd will undoubtedly command the respect of the team and that the team’s new triumvirate will do whatever it takes. He also said that he was ready and willing to be the captain and leader of the Nets’ bench and that the offense will be predicated on ball movement and making sure everyone is contributing and doing their part.
“We’re championship driven,” Pierce said. “We’ve made a lot of money in our careers. won a lot of awards. At this point right now, we’re all about winning a championship.”
With Garnett and Pierce now Brooklyn Nets, the league has been put on notice. The Knicks do not matter. The Celtics are a part of the past.
It’s all about winning a championship, and winning one right now.
Shlomo Sprung is a Sheridan Hoops columnist specializing in advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.