BROOKLYN, N.Y. — For so many years, fans of New York basketball — be it the Knicks or, recently, the Nets — have been stuck in a spin cycle. They’ve watched the two local franchises chase short-term fixes and rack up massive debts, in terms of both money and draft picks, with few positive results to show.
It has been five years since the Knicks made the postseason, which coincides with their lone playoff series win since 2000. The Nets, meanwhile, haven’t made the playoffs for three seasons and surrendered three straight top 10 picks along the way.
Neither team will likely come close to making the playoffs this season. But this summer has given reason for both fan bases to be more optimistic about the future. That’s because both are finally preaching the same mantra: patience.
“It’s still gonna take us a long time,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said during a recent interview in his office. “This isn’t something that changes overnight.”
“We’re committed to not missing any steps,” Knicks President Steve Mills said at the team’s annual state-of-the-franchise preseason news conference.
It’s funny how just the slightest bit of prudent, long-term thinking can change the tenor around a franchise — particularly when those franchises reside in the country’s largest market, bringing obvious allure for the game’s top players. To get in position to land stars, however, requires the kind of planning neither team had previously shown much inclination toward.
The current regimes, though, came in with those orders — and, at least so far, have followed them. Since taking the helm 2 1/2 years ago, Marks has steadily begun pulling the Nets out of the hole they were in when he took over, largely because of losing the rights to four first-round picks the Nets sent to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce five years ago. The results haven’t shown on the court yet, where Brooklyn has gone 48-116 over the past two seasons.
The Knicks, meanwhile, have a gaping postseason drought, and their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, is recovering from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in February. But New York does have a pair of exciting young rookies in Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson — both of whom impressed in the Las Vegas Summer League — and also is in position to open up at least one max cap slot next summer to chase a star.
This summer’s hiring of Coach David Fizdale didn’t hurt, nor do the incessant rumblings that Kevin Durant has a serious interest in moving east to ply his trade at Madison Square Garden next season.
The Knicks aren’t alone in free agency ambitions for next year. Brooklyn, after trading for and subsequently buying out Dwight Howard this summer, have the ability to carve out two full max slots. That will allow the Nets to sell players on their beautiful facility overlooking New York Harbor, plus the nearby Barclays Center.
“There’s a lot of people that have given up incredible jobs, and incredible unique opportunities to say: ‘Hey, look, I want to be part of something there. Part of something bigger than myself and build it,’ ” Marks said.
Proof that the franchises might finally be headed in the right direction comes from the ongoing saga surrounding Jimmy Butler. Both are among the four teams — along with the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat — on the four-time all-star’s preferred destinations list.
But even more important than Butler wanting to play for New York or Brooklyn is the fact neither franchise has any inclination to give up real assets to get him now. While both have made such moves in the past, patience now rules the day. They know they’ll have enough money to sign at least one star next summer and have declared they won’t be chasing players today that they can have tomorrow.
The same restraint has been noticeably absent previously, leading to disastrous results.
Basketball fans in New York will be hoping and praying that this time things are different. If Porzingis returns healthy, and if Knox, Robinson and Frank Ntilikina, last year’s first-round pick, develop, the Knicks will have plenty to sell to prospective free agents. The Nets don’t have the same overall talent base (though sophomore center Jarrett Allen is an intriguing building block), but Coach Kenny Atkinson has earned rave reviews for how he has handled the past two years, and Marks has created a culture within the franchise that has garnered positive feedback from players around the league.
“The goal [was] to change culture and make it a player-driven culture, where players could [say], ‘Man, I understand why they’re asking us to do this, and we have a say in this,’ ” Marks said. “They’re giving us direction, too, which is great.”
The Nets appear to have charted a new course. Same goes for the Knicks.
Could the long-awaited basketball renaissance in New York follow?
Are you interested in smart, thoughtful analysis of the NBA from The Washington Post and around the web delivered to your inbox every Monday morning? If so, sign up for the Monday Morning Post Up, The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter.