Brooklyn Nets on the Brink of Finally Overtaking the Knicks With a Pair of $160 Million-Plus Deals

Kevin Durant got the ball rolling when he signed a four-year contract extension earlier this summer. That deal will (a) pay him nearly $200 million and (b) keep him with the Brooklyn Nets through 2025–26. According to reports, the Durant deal is just the first domino to fall. The Nets are said to be closing on extensions for the other two members of the trio de grande, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Will that get them closer to winning the hearts of Gotham the way the New York Knicks have?

Durant and Irving came to Brooklyn in the wild summer of 2019. Harden joined the group in January 2021 after forcing his way off the roster of the Houston Rockets. While the group seldom took the court together, Brooklyn posted the best winning percentage in the franchise’s NBA history. Their 48–24 record was second-best in the Eastern Conference, though they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round.

The Brooklyn Nets are contenders, albeit fragile ones

The .667 winning percentage was impressive enough for the Brooklyn Nets. To get some idea of the franchise’s woeful NBA history, consider it was just the 15th time the Nets finished with a winning record in their 45 NBA seasons.

Brooklyn managed to finish second in the East despite their big three of Durant, Harden, and Irving playing together only eight times during the regular season. The Nets fell to Milwaukee, with Irving sidelined for the last three games of the series. Harden missed three games as well and was hobbled noticeably in the Game 7 loss.

But even three straight playoff appearances can’t make a dent in the city’s love affair with the New York Knicks. With two titles in 75 seasons, the last in 1973, the Knicks are the darlings of New York. That’s in part because the Nets also have two titles, both from the long-dead ABA.

Last season, the Knicks had a renaissance of sorts, winning more games than they lost for the first time in eight years but lost in the first round of the playoffs. Brooklyn has had a generally solid offseason, with more moves reportedly on the way. New York’s summer was — yeah, not sure yet.

The big names don’t belong to the New York Knicks for once

After the Brooklyn Nets locked in Durant for the foreseeable future (or at least until his age-38 season), Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks told reporters that discussions on contract extensions for both Harden and Irving were progressing, per the New York Daily News.

“I feel very confident that on the first day of training camp, we’ll be looking at those three in particular being signed, sealed, delivered, and being part of the Brooklyn Nets for a long time to come.”

Harden, who reportedly turned down a record extension offer from the Rockets, can get up to four years and $161.1 million. He would have to exercise his 2022–23 option for $47.4 million to do so. Irving is eligible for up to four years and $181.6 million with the same caveat for his player option.

It’s rare when the big-brand stars wear the Nets’ colors (or lack thereof) rather than be blue-and-orange of the New York Knicks.

Historically, the stars go to Manhattan: Walt Frazier, Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, and more. Jason Kidd and Drazen Petrović are the only Hall of Famers to spend their best years with the Nets since the move to the NBA in 1976.

The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have a rivalry, sort of

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets defended by Julius Randle of the New York Knicks
Kyrie Irving (11) of the Brooklyn Nets shoots against Julius Randle (30) of the New York Knicks during their game at Barclays Center on April 5, 2021 in New York City. | Al Bello/Getty Images

Fans of the New York Knicks enjoy taunting fans of the Brooklyn Nets. Nets fans have a built-in chip on their shoulder. But as far as a rivalry goes, it’s spotty.

The Nets and Knicks have played 202 times in the regular season. Each team has 101 wins, but that’s as much due to their long periods of futility as it being a knock-down, drag-out rivalry. Rivalries in the NBA are born in the playoffs. The teams have played there only three times. The Knicks won first-round series in 1983 and 1994. The Nets, then in New Jersey, swept a first-round series in 2004. End of the history lesson.

New York added Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker this offseason. Not exactly seismic events. Brooklyn brought in veteran Patty Mills and kept Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown while losing Spencer Dinwiddie in free agency. Dinwiddie always injected some fun into the Knicks-Nets banter.

Both teams should be competitive in 2021–22. And while the Brooklyn Nets may not get the love, they have the upper hand over the New York Knicks — for now.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and Stathead.

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