Rumors of the Nets moving to Newark to join the Devils are as old as Jason Kidd’s knees, but hoops-by-the-Ironbound may finally be a reality, as early as next season. After the Newark Star-Ledger reported yesterday that unnamed team sources were saying the Nets would consider a temporary relocation to Newark while awaiting their new Brooklyn digs, today’s Bergen Record followed up with actual quotes from a real person — or as real as you believe “New Jersey’s economic czar” to be — saying that talks are underway between the state and the Devils to ease a Nets move.
Reading between the lines a bit, here’s how it would work: The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the Brendan Byrne Arena Continental Airlines Arena Izod Center, releases the Nets from their lease clause that requires the team to pay an $8 million penalty if it moves anywhere but Brooklyn (or, for some reason, Queens) before 2013. In exchange, the Devils’ Prudential Center ends up with most of its winter dates filled by sports, which means it’d be mostly out of the running to compete with the Izod Center to land those arena concerts that we all know and love…
This could help solve what’s a potentially huge and underreported issue for the two Jersey arenas: How to handle the arena glut that is suddenly afflicting the tristate area now that the Pru (or The Rock or whatever cloying nickname you prefer to its official corporate moniker) has joined the Meadowlands and MSG as a local venue, and which will only worsen if the Nets’ Brooklyn arena ever gets off the ground. Minnesota’s Twin Cities faced a similar situation in the ’90s after the construction of Minneapolis’ Target Center left both new building and St. Paul’s Met Center with two few bookings to split between them — helping lead to the demolition of the highly regarded Met Center to reintroduce a seller’s market. (Not that that stopped St. Paul from building yet another new arena a few years later to bring the NHL back to town.) While in an ideal world both the NJSEA and the Devils would likely prefer to see their respective rival arenas sink into the swamp, a concerts-for-sports trade could at least put an end to the two buildings’ steel cage death match for, um, steel cage death matches.
The bigger question on everyone’s lips, meanwhile, is likely to be: Would this really be a temporary move, or is it a signal from Nets owner Bruce Ratner that he’s backing away from his Brooklyn dreams? It hasn’t been a good week or so for Ratner: The Atlantic Yards project has been hit with two new lawsuits charging illegal dealings by the MTA and Empire State Development Corporation, and the Wall Street Journal wrote that — thanks in part to the lawsuits and the difficulty it will make for Ratner to get bond insurance — the odds of his being able to sell tax-free bonds before a December 31 IRS deadline “looks like a toss-up.” Ratner swears, as always, that he has eyes only for Brooklyn, but it’s always good to have a backup plan.