Posted Feb 26 2011 11:51AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- Deron Williams is arguably the best point guard in the NBA and undoubtedly one of the league's 12 best players overall. Yet, in the minds of some, the New Jersey Nets made a mistake by trading for him on Wednesday. Essentially, they argue, the Nets will be renting him for 107 games, or even fewer if a lockout kills all or part of next season.
In fact, a colleague here at NBA.com (I won't name names) said on Thursday that the Nets were one of the losers at the trade deadline, because he believes that Williams, whom the Nets acquired on Wednesday for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks, will leave New Jersey when he can become a free agent in 2012.
In a way, Williams avoided the nonsense that surrounded Carmelo Anthony for seven months, because the Jazz traded him out of the blue, without a single hint or rumor. But the trade that brought Williams to New Jersey did nothing to change his contract status, nor the speculation that he'll flee whatever team he's on for a better situation at the first opportunity.
But after finally coming out from under the Melodrama that held the NBA hostage since last summer, it's time to take a break from such speculation about the game's best players.
Yes, if Williams, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul were to change teams, it would seriously alter the NBA landscape. And teams with the means should absolutely stay flexible in anticipation of acquiring one of them in 2012. But trying to figure out what's going to happen 17 months from now is pointless until a new CBA is in place and we understand what rules and what kind of budgets teams will be operating with.
For New Jersey, no matter what happens with the CBA, dealing for Williams now was a no-brainer. The Nets had been accumulating assets over the last couple of years to acquire a star, not to build a young team with a reasonable chance at making the playoffs in a couple of years. King went out and got that star, yet a better alternative would have been to ... what? Keep waiting?
At 17-41 after Friday's loss in San Antonio and with a roster lacking much starting-quality talent, the Nets certainly have some work to do to convince Williams that Brooklyn is the place to be come 2012. But despite what we've seen in Cleveland, Denver and Toronto over the last year, it's obviously easier to convince the guy you already have (and are allowed to talk to whenever you want) than the guy who's on the outside and only sees the standings and a few marketing boards in the hallway.
The sales pitch began not long after the trade was made, when King called his newest player on the phone for a conversation that couldn't have taken place had the Nets not acquired Williams in the first place.
"Once I got on the phone with Billy, I started to feel better about the situation," Williams said at his introductory press conference on Thursday. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about going to a team that was 17-40; that was my first process. But once I talked to Billy and they reassured me how committed they were, that got me excited."
The commitment starts at the top. Williams said Thursday that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is one of the team's assets when it comes to attracting players.
"You know that he's going to spend the money and want to compete," Williams said. "He's already proven that by moving to Brooklyn and the new arena. You know he's going to go after some free agents hard."
And the Nets don't plan on waiting until 2012 to do so. They have holes at both forward spots, and with plenty of cap space (about $19 million if the cap were to stay at the same level as it was a year ago), they intend to fill them this summer.
Fortunately for the Nets, the 2011 free agent class is pretty strong at both forward positions. And with a top-tier point guard, the Nets now have as good a recruiting tool as any. But the tricky part will be to acquire talent this summer without completely killing the team's cap space for 2012, when they have to be ready for another star.
Asked Thursday if his team could pull that off, Nets coach Avery Johnson responded "Absolutely."
The pressure is on, because Williams made it clear on Thursday that he won't be signing a contract extension this summer, when he first becomes eligible to do so.
"It all depends how the next year goes, the collective bargaining agreement, the moves that we make, and the people we bring in to this organization," Williams said. "There's so much that can go on between now and 2012 to even really discuss it. I won't know what I'm going to do until then."
That last statement isn't exactly reassuring for the Nets. It's essentially what Williams said when he was playing for the Jazz, who ultimately decided to trade him 16 months early, rather than risk losing him for nothing.
But Williams said that he's going to take an active role in recruiting other players to come to New Jersey, he called the idea of remaining a Net beyond 2012 a "strong possibility," and he said he looks forward to being a part of the team's move to Brooklyn.
For now, that's enough talk about 2012. The Nets still have work to do before then, but in adding Williams, they've made the rest of the job much easier.
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