The New Jersey Nets are nervous. Not only did they learn early Thursday morning that Dwight Howard would remain with the Orlando Magic for the rest of this season and for at least the first part of the 2012-13 campaign, but the team's attention now had to focus on retaining All-Star guard Deron Williams when he opts out of his contract this summer. Without Howard coming on board (in the summer of 2012 at least) there is little incentive for Williams to work his prime years with the Nets on a team that is on pace to win 28 games in what would be a typical 82-game NBA season.
With Williams likely looking elsewhere, to the Dallas Mavericks perhaps, the Nets are getting desperate. "Armed" with GM Billy King at the helm, they've made a bad panic trade to send Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a barely protected 2012 pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, who first broke news of the deal, if the pick falls outside of the top three in the draft (technically a likely situation, considering New Jersey is slated to have the best statistical shot at the fifth pick in the draft), the pick is all Portland's. Panic moves don't come much more panicky, friends, and we'd like to welcome the Billy King we knew from back in Philadelphia back to the NBA scene.
Think about what this represents. The Nets willingly went into a rebuilding year this season to clear cap space to sign Dwight Howard, losing games while happily taking in a lottery pick in a loaded NBA draft along the way. And with a few hours to go before Thursday's trade deadline, they've given up on their two best non-D-Will'd assets (that pick, and Okur's massive expiring contract) for the rights to Gerald Wallace. NBA players don't come more admirable than Wallace, who gives his all and has the basketball battle scars to show for it, but he also turns 30 in July and is running with a 15.5 Player Efficiency Rating (average) in Portland this year. Oh, Billy.
Rumors are swirling about Orlando's supposed love for Wallace, how he could be used as a trade chip next year because of his expiring contract, and it is worth pointing out that the Nets are due to have just about an absolute clean slate of a roster heading into the 2013 offseason, and Dwight Howard's impending free agency. But even with the loss of leverage and the clear league-wide knowledge that the Nets were frantically trying to find players to potentially surround a disappointed Deron Williams with, this is the best King could have done?
Okur's massive expiring deal, and a lottery pick, for this?
It's no guarantee that the pick will end up in Portland. The lottery system that the NBA has in place ensures this, and it wouldn't be a huge jump for the team with the fifth-worst record to receive a draft selection usually pegged for a team with the third-worst record, which would send the selection right back to the Nets. King has made mistakes in the past while running the 76ers, but he's as plugged in as NBA executives come, and the ramifications from this deal (between now and the end of the trade deadline, now and the draft lottery, this offseason, and next February's trade deadline) won't stop spiraling with the publishing of this reaction post.
As it stands now, though, it just appears that the Nets could have done better. And that they could have gotten more. And that they really should have protected that pick to a stronger degree, considering that they were agreeing to take on Wallace's $9.5 salary (it's a player option; but he's picking it up) for next season while clearing Portland's books.
There better be quite a few more machinations, on the Nets' end, to come. Because as it stands now, left naked and with Dwight Howard in Orlando and Deron Williams still opting out, this is a distressing move for a team that is in real danger of making the saddest move to Brooklyn since that blonde girl with the Cake Pop press.