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John Schuhmann

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With no Dwight Howard on the horizon, will the Nets have enough ammunition to keep Deron Williams?
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Wallace deal could cost Nets in the long run


Posted Mar 16 2012 1:21AM

Often, the winner of an NBA trade is the team that got the best player in the deal. But get this: Gerald Wallace was probably the best player traded on Thursday, and the team that acquired him was probably the day's biggest loser.

Those claims are hedged with the word "probably," because Nene (sent from Denver to Washington) is a comparable player, and because the New Jersey Nets still can come out of this OK.

But for now, it's hard not to look at the Nets' situation with a glass-half-empty view, especially when you think back to how promising their situation appeared just 18 hours before Thursday's trade deadline.

Since the Nets acquired Deron Williams last February, they've dreamed of teaming him with Dwight Howard in Brooklyn. And since the lockout ended, they've been confident that dream would come true. As late as Wednesday night, the predominant sentiment among pundits was that Howard was Brooklyn bound.

Thursday morning, after Howard changed his mind for the umpteenth time, the dream was dead. Well, not completely dead, because Howard hasn't committed to the Orlando Magic for more than one year. But it's certainly on life support, and Williams has the ability to pull the plug this summer.

Williams has said since December that he would exercise his early termination option by July 1 and become a free agent after just 1 1/2 seasons with the Nets, who gave up two No. 3 picks to get him. He could certainly change his mind and opt in for one more year, just like Howard did with the Magic. But if he doesn't, he'll be asked to make a long-term commitment to a team that hasn't made the playoffs in five seasons (unless they pull off a miracle in the next six weeks).

In an attempt to recover from striking out on Howard, the Nets acquired Wallace from Portland. Wallace fills a huge hole at small forward and brings defense to the team that ranks last on that end of the floor. In that sense, he's a great acquisition. And a lineup of Williams, MarShon Brooks, Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez is solid.

But the Nets have just 22 games left for Wallace to make an impact before Williams has to decide his future. And the team's chances of making a playoff push are hampered by injuries to both Williams (calf strain) and Lopez (sprained ankle).

Further, in order to acquire Wallace, the Nets gave Portland their first round pick this year, top-three protected. For Nets general manager Billy King, that's essentially putting more chips in the center of the table in their quest to keep Williams, who isn't interested in waiting around for young players to develop.

"We felt that the player that we may draft beyond the protection would be somebody that would take a couple of years," King said. "At this point, we're trying to speed the process up a little bit."

If Williams stays, then yeah, trading the pick isn't too big of a deal. But if Williams leaves, then the Wallace trade will have been a huge mistake. And the trade the Nets made to get Williams a year ago won't look so good either.

Many believe that the Nets' inability to acquire Howard automatically means that Williams will bolt for Dallas in July. That's his hometown, the Mavs will have the cap space to sign him, and Dirk Nowitzki would be the best player he's ever teamed with.

But assuming that Williams will definitely leave is ignoring how comfortable the point guard has become with the Nets and with living in New York. He has picked up a handful of new endorsements in the country's biggest market, and the Nets have included him in their decision-making all season. Maybe most important, when it comes to stars deciding where to play, the home team always has an advantage, even if no one thinks the player wants to stay. Just ask the Magic.

Of course, Williams may not be so comfortable now that Howard isn't ready to join him with the Nets. King said he spoke to Williams on Thursday, but not about the point guard's contract option.

The Nets will have a couple of more opportunities (draft day and the start of free agency) to improve their roster before Williams has to commit, and they will remain in the Dwight discussion unless Howard commits long-term in Orlando. They still have the assets (Lopez, Brooks, future picks) and cap flexibility to make a deal with the Magic in July or a year from now. And Wallace was actually heading to Orlando in a three-team deal the teams reportedly discussed in December.

But the chances of a D-Will/D-Wight tandem in Brooklyn took a big hit on Thursday. And though the Nets got a player that can help them, their day was more about the one that got away.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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