Which regional rivalries could offer the most fireworks?

Bruce Bennett

In light of the renewed Knicks-Nets feud, The Hook considers five others that could ignite the same sort of passion if both teams are good. Plus, some thoughts on DeMarcus Cousins' contract extension.

The heads of state for the Knicks and Nets came together this week to celebrate bringing All-Star Weekend to New York City. The players on each team have spent the summer carping about who owns New York. (They apparently missed Kendrick's memo.) And it actually looks like the teams will be able to back it up, as fans of both squads can make a somewhat reasonable claim as a title contender. (Not a compelling claim, but a somewhat reasonable one.)

The new New York rivalry got me thinking about other tight regional rivalries. And when I say "tight" regional rivalries, I mean New York vs. Brooklyn, not Denver vs. Utah. I needed a distance cut-off, so I went with the highly scientific Google Maps method. If G-Maps says it takes two hours or less to get from City A to City B, you're in. So OKC-Dallas, Orlando-Miami, Philly-D.C., Boston-N.Y., Portland-Seattle, Seattle-Vancouver and a few others we think of as regional rivalries missed the cut. Maybe next time, Houston-San Antonio.

Here are the six that we're left with.

New York-New Jersey/Brooklyn

New York's had a rival in screaming distance since the Syracuse Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1960s, but the ABA merger offered an even closer enemy in the Nets. Last year, they got even closer. But until now, it's been quite a long time since both teams have been good at the same time.

Knicks-nets_medium

Until now, the longest stretch in which both teams were above .500 was two years, which happened twice. That stretch in the late '70s and early '80s stands as a beacon of rivalry. Needless to say, this new battle for supremacy should outrank any previous skirmishes.

New York-Philadelphia

As noted, the Knicks had a nearby rival in the Sixers prior to the Nets' arrival in the NBA. The battles have been somewhat more frequent.

Knicks-sixers_medium

But sadly, each team's greatest eras came in largely down times for the other squad. The only extended overlap comes during the Sixers' '80s heyday and the Knicks' Ewing-led rise. There was also some overlap in the early Iverson era and the very-late Ewing era, and for a spit back in the '60s. Otherwise, it was usually a case of one team being great and the other mediocre or, in the case of the Aughts, both teams being pretty forgettable.

New Jersey/Brooklyn-Philadelphia

The oft-forgotten Nets-Sixers regional rivalry!

Nets-sixers_medium

Oh yeah, that's because the Nets aren't usually very good. The only overlap here is the Iverson and Kidd eras and a brief spell when the Sixers were competing for titles in the '80s. There's no chance of the Sixers joining the Battle of New York for a couple years, and chances are at least one of the NYC teams (if not both) will have fallen off by the time Philly's back.

Clippers-Lakers

The NBA's longest standing one-city rivalry has been a totally one-sided affair, because Clippers. I included the San Diego Clippers era because it's within two hours.

Lakers-clippers_medium

Oh, man. We'll always have 2006-07. And now that the Clippers are finally awesome, the teams are just ships passing in the night.

Bucks-Bulls

Because the teams are not on the East Coast or in L.A., we don't often hear about the I-94 Rivalry between the Bucks and Bulls. Chicago and Milwaukee are just 90 minutes apart.

Bucks-bulls_medium

This rivalry started out with a bang, and then both teams fell off immediately. Milwaukee recovered well, and there was a brief overlap of excellence during Jordan's rise. Since then, it's been pretty lopsided one way or the other.

Sacramento-Golden State

And finally, the Northern California rivalry. Sadly, I know how this story goes, and it's not pretty.

Kings-warriors_medium

Not once since the Kings arrived in 1985 have the two teams been .500 or better in the same season. Needless to say, they've never had a playoff series because they've never made the playoffs in the same season. What a sad little situation we have out here.

So there you have it: tight regional rivalries have oddly lacked competitiveness in the NBA. All hail the Battle of New York!

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BOOGIE UP

DeMarcus Cousins landed his max contract, which means three things:

1. Basketball Twitter will have a gleefully snarky time on occasion of Cousins's inevitable first technical foul.

2. The Kings' locker room balance of power has swung right back from coach Michael Malone to Cousins. When new owner Vivek Ranadivé quickly hired Malone and gave him a long deal, the effect was to make him the most important guy in basketball operations. Now Cousins has his own long-term deal, and with it the implicit power throw his weight around. (Not that he necessarily will: he seems to like Malone.)

3. Cousins really has no excuses to blow up repeatedly at this point. He has a newly stable franchise and management team, a non-lame duck coach, a commitment from ownership and no uncertainty about his future. The one thing he lacks is a great supporting cast, but he can help them by not freelancing so much and doing his part to the best of his abilities on defense. That's the one area in which Malone has promised improvement, and Cousins has a ton of room to improve.

I expect management will frame this both to Cousins and to the public not as a reward for the first three years of his career, but as a bet that he'll be awesome from 2014 through 2018. Having some belief in him and backing it up could very well go a long way.

Or, it won't, and the Kings will be forced to trade him in a year or two. I don't think making this decision has the potential to move the Kings further away from a winning season. It just avoids one set of tricky negotiations next summer and gives Cousins a reason to feel secure in this important season.

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