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A Billy Joel-Themed Look at the Knicks and the Nets

Both N.B.A. teams in New York City are in transition right now — on and off the floor.

For the Nets, this year’s campaign is about cultivating camaraderie and developing the younger players, treading water until the wounded knight in shining armor — Kevin Durant — returns next season. For the Knicks, this season’s motto is most likely some variation of: “There’s always next year. And the year after that.”

In the meantime, the tenants of Madison Square Garden have been unwatchable. The Knicks are in perpetual bridge mode — but what they’re transitioning to is unclear. The coaches don’t seem to know, which shows in their substitution patterns. The front office has no idea, which shows in the roster construction. It’s in a constant state of flux, and the on-court results are terrible: The Knicks went 1-7 to start the season. They have been outscored by more points on average than any other team in the league.

But there is light on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge. The Nets were a mediocre 3-4 in their first seven games, but two of those losses were by 1 point in overtime. Very much unlike the Knicks, the Nets have a positive point differential, which suggests that some of their close losses are going to turn into wins as the season progresses. They have the fifth best offense in the league and second best in the East, behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Kyrie Irving, 27, is playing not just the best basketball of his career, but some of the best basketball in the league. He’s on pace for career highs in essentially everything.

The Nets have struggled defensively, performing below the league average. This has resulted in their being unable to hold leads: They have blown significant second-half advantages against the Pistons, the Knicks, the Timberwolves and the Grizzlies. They should still make the playoffs, but the question is whether they’ll be better than last year. If they’re not, that’s disappointing for the franchise. But they’ll always be able to fall back on “Who cares? Durant is coming back.”

The Knicks have to make a decision about what they want to accomplish this season, whereas the Nets have clear goals.

The Knicks should take the season to evaluate their young talent for who is going to be part of the core going forward. This means fewer minutes for the Morrises and Randles of the world, and more for the Knoxes, the Robinsons and Frank Ntilikinas. This means figuring out exactly what they have in Allonzo Trier, a dynamic offensive player who is a sieve defensively. (Trier is a decent symbol of the Knicks’ uncertainty: He began the year in the starting lineup. He was pulled by Game 2. On Wednesday night, in a blowout loss to the Pistons, he played four minutes. The game before that: 24 minutes.)

The Knicks have a ton of salary cap space coming this summer and probably another high draft pick. And they seem to have some tradable pieces they can use to build around Barrett. But it’s time to find out what exactly the value of these pieces are, not to give rotation minutes to a veteran like Taj Gibson when his efforts are unlikely to push the team into the playoffs.

And speaking of tradable pieces, Kristaps Porzingis will be at the Garden next week. The Knicks could sure use a guy like him.

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