The Nets and their fans like to think New York’s second NBA team can somehow be more popular than the Knicks. This idea seems so wishful thinking no matter how much both are in denial.
Since the Nets moved to Brooklyn, it’s been their approach.

The Nets thought there would be a paradigm shift once Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving play together next season. So much for that.

It will likely never happen, even if the Nets win a championship with those two stars.

The Knicks will always be New York’s favorite choice because of its history and brand.

Tom Thibodeau sent that message clearly by taking the Knicks head coaching job rather than coach Durant and Irving to a championship. A proud coach with an ego preferred to work for a troubled organization with a stupid owner. Talk about a kick in the shins right there. This should wake up Nets owner Joe Tsai right there. This should convince him to end his delusion once in for all.

I admit I was surprised Thibodeau would take the Knicks job. I figured he would be so hellbent on winning a championship rather than take another rebuilding job. He coached the Minnesota Timberwolves for two and ½ forgettable seasons, and he stunk. He struggled to get the most out of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and he didn’t exactly spend much time working with them. I figured he would just work with the players that can help him win games and win a championship right away after that experience.

Thibodeau took the job knowing he would be a hero in town if he coached the Knicks to the playoffs and bring them back to their glory years when the franchise was so popular in the 90s. This motivated him in a sense he understands how New York values the Knicks. He served as Jeff Van Gundy’s associate coach with the Knicks, so he knows the feeling. His ego made sure he did not forget it all these years.

The Knicks brand made him take the Knicks coaching job rather than coach the Nets. He knows if the Nets win a championship under him, no one would care. It’s the Nets.

Nets general manager Sean Marks likely was happy that Thibodeau did not want to coach the Nets. He preferred to hire a coach he can control and work well with then work with a coach who may seek general manager powers. That means Jacque Vaughn’s chances of being a Nets coach increases even more than ever.

Make no mistake. Nets ownership couldn’t be happy with this development. Tsai seeks to hire an accomplished coach that can win a championship and help create the Nets brand. He certainly wants the Nets to be well-known in the city and in the NBA. Vaughn does not do it for anyone, and he does not give Durant and Irving a chance to win a title.

Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Tsai will see if he can convince Los Angeles Clippers associate coach Tyronn Lue to coach the Nets. That could be the best scenario since he knows what makes Irving tick from coaching him with the Cavaliers. He may be one guy that can somehow get Irving to listen to him. Honestly, he should let Marks make the decision on who to be the head coach. This is his team, and as a general manager, he should be making the choice of who should coach the Nets.

If Tsai somehow decides Jason Kidd or Mark Jackson should coach the Nets, it would show he doesn’t get it.

It would mean he is so hellbent on the Nets to match New York’s back page tabloids with the Knicks and making sure the Nets would be the popular team in town.

It would be a foolish decision.

He can’t make the same mistake that then-disgraced owner Mikhail Prokhorov did with the Nets by acquiring Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett just to show they are in it to win the popular vote in town. Prokhorov tried to go for it by winning it all, and he made the franchise worse than getting better. It took a long time for Marks to rebuild the team and change the culture that set the stage for Durant and Irving to come.

The Nets need to stop worrying about the Knicks and just build a good basketball team. The only thing that should matter is winning championships, not being a popular team in town. They should look at the Clippers as an example. Rather than get caught up with matching the Los Angeles Lakers in popularity, they focus on building an entertaining team. This is what the Nets should focus on.

Thibodeau’s decision should serve as a wake-up call for Tsai and the Nets. It’s a waste of time trying to supplant the Knicks as a popular team in town. It will never happen. The Knicks are the Knicks in a sense they earned their brand with a successful pedigree under the late Red Holtzman and Pat Riley during their history, which is something the Nets can’t even say outside of the Jason Kidd era.

Thibodeau may have done Tsai a favor by sending a sobering message.
Maybe the Nets can be better for it just for that.

Featured Image: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
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