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Nets let Deron Williams play 'assistant GM,' but it isn't enough to keep him from free agency

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

Unsolicited opinions via social media haven't helped the New Jersey Nets' cause in keeping Deron Williams. Neither does the unofficial title of team "assistant GM." And fans can forget about playing the "loyalty" card, for it won't stop Williams from hitting the free-agent market this summer.

"People get traded all the time," Williams told Yahoo! Sports. "They don't get backlash as an organization. If [players] leave, we are not loyal, we are ungrateful. People say stuff to me on Twitter. They already think I'm gone. They are out there bashing me, saying to me I'm a traitor.

"I didn't ask to be here. I got traded. I didn't come here being a free agent. This is the first time that I'm a free agent in my career."

Sounds like Williams is ready for free agency, although he hasn't ruled out the Nets.

He "probably" would have re-signed if the Nets had dealt for the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard before the March 15 trade deadline. While Howard was intrigued by New Jersey, the NBA's most dominant center ultimately opted in to his contract for at minimum next season with the Magic.

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"It's a decision he made for himself," Williams said. "I really have no comment on it. He did what was best for him. I respect that. I'm still friends with him.

"Oh yeah, it definitely would have changed things. I've already made it known that if he would have come I probably would have stayed."

The All-Star was drafted third overall by the Jazz in 2005 and became one of the league's best point guards. The Jazz weren't confident they could re-sign Williams long-term and were nervous he would bolt as a free agent if he exercised an opt-out in his contract in 2012. Utah protected itself by trading Williams to the Nets on Feb. 23, 2011, for then-rookie Derrick Favors, guard Devin Harris, two first-round picks and cash.

A stunned Williams arrived in New Jersey with immediate hope from the rebuilding Nets to eventually re-sign long-term. The Nets failed to land a marquee free agent in the 2010 class highlighted by James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer. New Jersey also failed in its hopes to land then-Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who was dealt to the New York Knicks last season. With a new arena to be unveiled in Brooklyn next season, the Nets were desperate to land a star and rolled the dice on Williams.

Now they're looking at a precarious summer. What's their sales pitch to Williams?

New Jersey's roster has talent in oft-injured Brook Lopez, rookie Marshon Brooks and veteran newcomer Gerald Wallace. The Nets get to keep the 2012 first-round pick they traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for Wallace if it is a top-three selection. The Barclays Center opens next season. Williams appears to have a solid relationship with general manager Billy King and coach Avery Johnson. The Nets could also make a draft day trade to woo Williams prior to the official start of free agency.

"I want to win. At the end of the day, I'm not getting any younger," Williams said. "I'll be 28 when I sign this next deal. I have to look for the best situation for me."

King says another drawing card for Williams is influence on constructing the team's roster.

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"He's been involved in the process since December," King said. "We talked about, 'This is Plan A and this is Plan B and C.'

"In training camp he was in my office after practice every day just sitting there. He calls himself, 'the assistant GM.' "

As a free agent, expect Williams to have a strong suitor from his hometown Dallas Mavericks. The reigning NBA champions will have the money this summer to offer Williams a big contract to join forces with All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. Williams says loved ones back home wouldn't mind seeing him return.

But those voices don't carry significant weight considering Williams has a reputation of not being swayed by the masses. He was the only American NBA star to play overseas during the lockout, suiting up in Turkey, and he left Texas after high school to play at Illinois.

"No pressure. They know it's my decision," Williams said. "People know how I am so they're not going to say anything to me. They'd definitely love for me to play [in Dallas]. I know that. I've known that my whole career. The fans on Twitter, a lot of Dallas fans on Twitter, tell me to come back home. We'll see."

Williams doesn't appear stressed about the situation. The Nets should be since a lot is at stake. No Williams probably means no All-Star will help open the new building in Brooklyn. No Williams means the gamble to acquire Wallace, who has a player's option for $9.5 million next season, didn't work and they lost a potential high first-round pick in the process. No Williams means the Nets gave up Favors and the third overall pick in last year's draft (Utah rookie center Enes Kanter) for nothing.

Through all the risk, Johnson and King maintain hope.

"He's been to our [arena] site. He knows what the vision is. Maybe we give him a reminder every now and then, but he knows where we're headed," Johnson said.

Said King: "[Williams] and I were at [the arena site] in May just looking at the dirt. He doesn't want to go back down there until it's done."

Time will tell if Williams returns to Barclays Center as a Net or a booed visitor.

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