February 23, 2011
The New Jersey Nets have given the NBA a roller-coaster trip in the weeks leading up to Thursday's trade deadline. And with the team's acquisition of all-world point guard Deron Williams(notes), things appear to be trending up.
Nets fans woke up to bad news on Wednesday. Not only had their team missed out on Carmelo Anthony(notes), but the Carnegie Deli was mocking the Nets' Russian owner Mikhail Prokorov with just a squirt of the condiment bottle, rubbing in New York's ability to grab ‘Melo by adding "Russian dressing" to a sandwich named after Anthony. Worse, league-wide word had the Dallas Mavericks refusing to give up rookie Dominique Jones(notes) (who?) in a deal that would send Caron Butler's(notes) expiring contract to New Jersey for their unhappy point guard Devin Harris(notes). With the only other options seemingly coming in the form of 35-year-old point man Andre Miller(notes), things were looking down in Newark.
Now? Up. Because Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Nets have sent rookie Derrick Favors(notes), Harris and two first-round picks to the Utah Jazz for Williams. The Nets will also send $3 million Utah's way, and in a separate deal are close to also shipping the expiring contract of little-used big man Troy Murphy(notes) to Golden State for Dan Gadzuric(notes) and Brandan Wright(notes), two intriguing bigs who can play if given time.
It's a stunning turnaround for both the Nets and the Utah Jazz. Utah entered this season with legitimate conference title aspirations, turning the unhappy Carlos Boozer(notes) into the ebullient Al Jefferson(notes), and preparing to possibly take down the Lakers out West. Instead, Jefferson never fit in, Jerry Sloan grew tired of battling back and forth with Williams before quitting the team, and now Utah's All-Star point guard is gone.
Most thought the Jazz -- with Sloan losing the supposed battle of wills with Williams -- would continue to tie their NBA future to that of DW's. But with the league hearing little out of Utah about Williams' apparent availability, the Jazz were nonetheless apparently fearful of him leaving for nothing in the summer of 2012 as a free agent. Now, the team is in clear start-over mode -- unless the Jazz decide to move forward with Harris and the triptych of power forwards in Jefferson, Paul Millsap(notes) and rookie Favors.
Harris can play. He's two years removed from working as a legitimate NBA All-Star in New Jersey, and while he isn't as good as Williams, he's not a bad consolation prize. The problem with Devin is that he has also essentially taken the past two seasons off. Despite his significant talent and ability to shape the course of a game, Harris is clearly disinterested at times.
Things aren't going to turn completely around for New Jersey either. Though Williams will be a huge upgrade, and Favors and Murphy weren't really important to their rotation in 2010-11, this is their big cash-in. It's not the worst cash-in, but in giving up the first-round draft picks (New Jersey's own from 2011 and Golden State's -- two very good selections), along with Troy Murphy's massive expiring deal, this will be your Nets team for a spell.
And, even with Williams in tow, this squad doesn't really smack of playoff potential. Brook Lopez(notes) can play, but his confidence has taken an obvious step back this season with Avery Johnson at the helm. There also remains trouble at shooting guard and small forward in New Jersey, and Williams is no lock to extend his contract this summer after the NBA's labor negotiations.
Prokorov appears to be competing against the Knicks, and little else, at this point. Knicks fans would (or, at least, "should") probably prefer a core including Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), Danilo Gallinari(notes)/Wilson Chandler, and Deron Williams to the current Amar'e/Carmelo/Chauncey Billups(notes) trio. But it's unclear if the Knicks were ever going to be able to grab Williams with the assets they had to offer.
The Nets owner, in an interview with Darren Rovell before the deal, seemed to be aware of this.
Prokhorov: I think we've made a very good tactical decision to force (the) Knicks just to pay as much as they can. So I think it's very good, it's very interesting, it's very competitive. As you know, my instinct was to stay away and I still think that is the right decision.
Later in the interview, Prokorov pointed out that he still thinks the Nets will win a championship within the five-year window he mentioned last spring. That's still a tough sell, but New Jersey will have one thing going for it that New York can't match.
If Williams extends his contract with the Nets later this year, both he and Brook Lopez (assuming he re-signs) will be working under contracts developed under the next collective bargaining agreement -- this means the deals could be worth about 60 or 70 percent of what Stoudemire and Anthony will earn in New York. And while Lopez and Williams aren't as good as Stoudemire and Anthony in total, they're certainly better than 60 or 70 percent as good as New York's flashy duo.
Whatever the outcome, flash has come to Newark. And eventually that flash will move to Brooklyn. And even if the Nets never catch up to the Knicks in the standings, you can be sure that Prokorov's crew will still be a significant thorn in the side of the Knicks for years to come.