As the crowd filed out of the Barclays Center in May 2015, there was reason for hope. Though the Nets had just been eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, they had overachieved and shown some promise for the future. And Phil Jackson had become the Knicks president the year before, bringing his triangle offense and a coaching résumé that included 11 N.B.A. titles to Manhattan.
Little did New York fans know that it would be four dreadful years before playoff basketball would return to the city. It finally will on Thursday night, when the Nets host the Philadelphia 76ers in a series tied at one all.
While there has been no playoff basketball in the city in the interim, much has happened in those four years. And for Knicks and Nets fans, not much of it has been good.
May 1, 2015 The eighth-seeded Nets fall to the top-seeded Hawks, 111-87. But they take two games in the series, raising optimism. “We were able to secure a playoff spot,” Coach Lionel Hollins says. “Some people will say, ‘Hey, we didn’t deserve it.’ That’s their problem.”
June 25 After putting up a 17-65 record, the worst in franchise history and the league’s second worst in 2015, the Knicks have bad luck in the draft lottery, ending up at the No. 4 spot. Nevertheless, their selection, Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia, will pay off, quickly becoming a star and a fan favorite.
Oct. 3 Knicks Coach Derek Fisher gets into a physical altercation after being confronted by Matt Barnes of the Memphis Grizzlies at the home of Barnes’s estranged wife. Barnes is suspended for two games.
Dec. 30 Cleanthony Early of the Knicks is shot in the knee by masked men and robbed of gold teeth caps after a visit to a strip club.
Jan. 10, 2016 The Nets fire Coach Hollins and demote General Manager Billy King with the team at 10-27. “Frankly speaking, I deserve a championship now much more than six years ago,” owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov says.
April 13 The Nets finish the season 21-61, the league’s third worst record. But there will be little help on draft day: They traded their top pick to the Celtics in 2014 for a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett and a 36-year-old Paul Pierce, both of whom are gone at this point.
The Knicks finish 32-50. That’s a 15-game improvement, but Jackson says, “We’re disappointed about our season.”
April 17 The Nets hire Kenny Atkinson, a Hawks assistant, as head coach. “Together, we can do great things,” Prokhorov says.
June 2 The Knicks hire Jeff Hornacek as coach, bypassing the interim coach, Kurt Rambis.
June 22 The Knicks trade for Derrick Rose, who proclaims them a “superteam.” After a year he will leave for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
July 7 The Nets sign Jeremy Lin, perhaps hoping to recapture the Linsanity that took over the Knicks in 2012.
July 8 The Knicks sign Joakim Noah for four years and $72 million. This will not work out. Noah will be suspended for 20 games for a drug violation, be sent to the developmental league and get into a shouting match with Hornacek. The Knicks wind up releasing him in 2018 and paying him anyway.
Feb. 8, 2017 The Knicks legend Charles Oakley is ejected from Madison Square Garden during a game. The crowd sides with the former player, chanting “Oakley, Oakley.” The Knicks say he behaved abusively, and the owner, James L. Dolan, says that Oakley “may have a problem with alcohol.” Oakley sues, claiming defamation and battery.
March 12 Carmelo Anthony gets his 10,000th point as a Knick, becoming the third player to reach that mark with two teams.
April 12 The Nets finish 20-62, the worst record in the league. Once again a potentially high draft pick is gone, as part of the Garnett deal. The Knicks are 31-51.
June 22 The Nets trade their longtime star Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. Russell will become a key player in the team’s resurgence.
June 28 The Knicks and Phil Jackson agree to part ways after three years. The Knicks never fully embraced his triangle offense, and Jackson remained wary of the 3-point shot as it became increasingly important in the league. He also could never seem to get rid of Anthony, the team’s aging star who refused to waive a no-trade clause. Jackson also feuded with the player expected to be the team’s future, Porzingis.
Sept. 25 A trade is finally worked out for Anthony, who is sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter. He gave the Knicks seven seasons of 20-points-a-game play. Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips,” Anthony says. He also notes that under new management, “They went from asking for peanuts to asking for steak.”
Feb. 6, 2018 Porzingis tears the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and is out for the rest of this season and the next one.
April 11 The Nets finish 28-54. Incredibly, for a third straight year they do not have their top pick because of that Garnett deal. (Garnett is by now 41 and has been out of the league two years.) The lost picks turned into Jaylen Brown, a big part of the contending Celtics; Markelle Fultz, a No. 1 overall choice; and Collin Sexton, who averaged 17 points as a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Knicks wind up 29-53 and fire Hornacek the next day. David Fizdale will be the new coach.
Asked how the Knicks can improve, the superfan Spike Lee can only turn to prayer: “On bended knee I pray above to da basketball gods to deliver us back to da glory years of da Orange and Blue. Amen,” he writes in The New York Times.
June 20 The Nets make a trade to get Dwight Howard from the Hornets, but Howard buys his way out of his contract and never plays for them.
July 13 The Nets trade Lin to the Hawks, curing the city’s second, significantly milder case of Linsanity.
The Knicks get Dennis Smith Jr. and some expiring contracts, which should open up salary cap space so they can sign some marquee free agents. Assuming that marquee free agents would want to play for the Knicks.
March 12 Knicks fans hoping for a change in ownership are disappointed when Dolan proclaims that he will not sell the team, even for $6 billion. Two days before that, he was filmed threatening a fan with banishment from the Garden after the fan had urged him to sell the team.
April 10 The Knicks have sunk to the bottom of the league again, finishing 17-65 and tying the franchise-worst mark. The Nets start the season 8-18, but then unexpectedly turn things around behind Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie (picked up from the developmental league in 2016) and Jarrett Allen (a No. 22 pick in 2017). They finish 42-40. Playoff basketball returns to New York. For now.