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John Schuhmann

The Nets could have both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard on their roster some day -- or perhaps neither.
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Nets' fortunes could improve with free agent moves

Posted Dec 5 2011 2:45PM

Depending on how you look at it, the New Jersey Nets are either in a precarious position or a propitious one.

Less than a year from now, they will play their first game as the Brooklyn Nets in the brand new Barclays Center. When that happens, they could possibly have two top-10 players under contract for the next five years ... or they could have none.

Deron Williams' agent Jeff Schwartz has let the Nets know that his client won't be accepting their offer of a contract extension, and he'll likely also be declining his player option for the 2012-13 season to become a free agent next summer. So general manager Billy King is at risk of losing the guy he traded two top-three picks for before Williams even plays 80 games for the Nets.

As it stands, King isn't close to considering any trade offers for his star point guard, for good reason.

"Based on the new rules it doesn't make any sense for [Williams] to sign the extension," Schwartz told The Record last week. "It has nothing to do with how much he likes New Jersey. Because of the rules he's going to play the season out and probably opt out of his deal."

Williams later tweeted similar sentiments. If he were to exercise his player option next summer, he'd only be under contract through the 2012-13 season. And if he were to accept a contract extension before then, he'd only be under contract through '14-15. But by becoming a free agent after this season, he can get a contract from the Nets that runs through 2016-17 or from another team that runs through 2015-16.

For Williams, it's about long-term security. It means that the Nets and their fans will have to stress about their franchise player's happiness for the next seven months. But in an interview with WFAN on Monday, Williams put the chances of him staying with the Nets at 90 percent, adding that the organization is "perfectly run, from top to bottom."

For the Nets, the situation could be far worse.

On Thursday, Yahoo! reported that Chris Paul's agent had informed the New Orleans Hornets that Paul wants to be traded to the New York Knicks. The Hornets are seemingly now in the same position that the Denver Nuggets were a season ago, except, after trading for Carmelo Anthony in February, the Knicks don't have any assets left to send New Orleans.

The Nets have assets, and they'd love to use them to acquire Dwight Howard, who may or may not want out of Orlando. New Jersey currently has a little more than $9 million in cap space, but King can increase that to almost $22 million by waiving Travis Outlaw via the amnesty clause and renouncing the Bird rights to free agent big man Kris Humphries.

That cap space, along with young center Brook Lopez, gives Magic general manager Otis Smith an interesting option should he decide he needs to trade Howard. Lopez isn't comparable to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but he is one of the better centers in the league and is only 23 years old. Plus, the Nets' cap space gives Smith the ability put his team in a much better financial position.

By sending Howard and Hedo Turkoglu to New Jersey for Lopez, draft picks, and either Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow or Johan Petro, Orlando could clear more than $21 million off their 2011-12 payroll. They could then use the amnesty clause to waive Gilbert Arenas and truly start over. A trade to a team without cap space, on the other hand, would likely keep the Magic handcuffed financially for the next few years.

Starting Monday morning, Howard has the opportunity to tell Smith what he wants. That could be a conversation that changes the NBA landscape.

"We have to figure out where his head is, not where everyone thinks his head is, and just more figure out where he wants to be," Smith told the Orlando Sentinel last week. "And then you have to make the best decision of what's in the best interests of the franchise."

The Nets hope that Howard makes it clear to Smith that he'll be leaving Orlando one way or the other by next July. They hope Smith sees Lopez, picks and financial relief as the best package for the future of the Magic. And they hope that Smith understands the urgency of doing the deal right away. Their cap space (and his potential financial relief) has an expiration date: this Friday, when teams can begin to sign free agents.

If Friday comes and Smith isn't ready or willing to make a deal, the Nets have to move on quickly, because this free agent class is short on top-shelf talent and they can't afford to wait until next summer to show Williams the roster upgrades he wants.

If the Nets can't get Howard, they still want to go big, because the best available players are on the frontline. They have huge holes at both forward positions (whether or not they waive Outlaw), but believe that Lopez can play the four, at least offensively. So should their Howard dreams fail to become a reality, they're prepared to spend big bucks on free-agent centers Nene or Tyson Chandler.

Neither of the two bigs is a perfect fit next to Lopez, but both would be big upgrades over Humphries. Chandler would give the Nets more defensively, while Nene would provide a bigger offensive boost.

"Both of those guys would change the dynamic of this team instantly," Williams said in his radio interview. Either one would team with Lopez to create one of the best big-man combinations in the league and put the Nets in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

A Howard trade, of course, would put them near the top. But even if Howard wants out of Orlando, Smith may feel that a package centered around the Lakers' Andrew Bynum is better for his franchise. Plus, even if the Nets make them lucrative offers, Nene and Chandler could certainly sign elsewhere.

And if that happens, the Nets' position becomes far more precarious than propitious.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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