Deron Williams re-signs with the Brooklyn Nets, and we have to wonder if Dwight Howard could have come over as well

The biggest prize of the 2012 NBA free-agent class is off the market. Deron Williams tweeted on Tuesday his intentions to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski later followed up Williams' announcement to point out that the All-Star guard would be signing a five-year, $100 million deal with the team, apparently choosing the relocating franchise over a Dallas Mavericks team that both won the 2011 NBA championship and plays near in Williams' home town.

Apparently the extra year and extra $25 million the Nets were able to pay Williams — numbers ramped up in the NBA's latest collective bargaining agreement in order to encourage players to stay with incumbent teams — was enough to sway the soon-to-be eight-year vet. The only question now is whether the Nets have now signed themselves out of the running for the player they once thought was going to be the prize of this summer's free-agent class before he panicked and picked up his contract option for 2012-13: Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.

[Adrian Wojnarowski: Deron Williams agrees to $100 million deal with Nets]

Howard made it clear as late as Sunday to Wojnarowski that he would only re-sign in 2013 with one team -- clearly the Nets squad he has long coveted a trade to -- threatening to even play out the season with Orlando to sign with a Brooklyn team that could offer a major endorsement kicker in his deal with his preferred shoe company. Williams' massive deal, and the agreed-upon trade that would send Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, appear to have greatly lowered the Nets' odds in the Howard sweepstakes.

Mostly because Orlando, at this time, has no interest in the expiring contract and lower-rung draft picks the Nets would only have to offer in a deal. Finding a third team to send assets to Orlando (assets that wouldn't return Howard to the third team) would be tough. Because Howard is under contract for 2012-13, he's at the mercy of the team he's held hostage for nearly a year -- with no cap space available next offseason as the Nets' payroll will be filled up with Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace and, potentially, Brook Lopez's contract extension (even declining to re-sign Lopez would offer no such room). There's no free-agent space left for Dwight, destroying the ideal that both Brooklyn and Howard once had of re-signing Williams this offseason only after coming to terms with Howard as a free agent.

Nets fans can't burden themselves just yet considering the consolation prize of Johnson and Wallace, though, because … well, yes they can.

A mixture of poorly conceived moves by general manager Billy King (dealing a lottery pick for Wallace, then overpaying him in a market that would have yielded a contract likely half its length and financial scope in order to save face) and immaturity on Howard's part has resulted in a scenario that's pretty good instead of great for Brooklyn -- and potentially disastrous for Howard.

[Adrian Wojnarowski: Magic eye Bynum as target in potential Howard trade]

Williams is a cornerstone worth celebrating, though. He's an effortless scorer who should thrive in a pick-and-roll game with both Johnson and his short-lived Nets teammates like Wallace and potentially Lopez and Kris Humphries. And he'll be an absolute rock at a needed position even if the Nets are left to live with where it all went wrong in the spring and summer of 2012 -- surrounding the one evening it went all right. Signing Williams is more than all right, and though the Nets could have played this better, the team will at least have its marquee player as it heads into the new Barclays Center in its first game as the Brooklyn Nets this fall.

King did fantastic work in keeping Williams' spirits up as he worked through the 16 1/2 rebuilding months in the time since he was traded from the Utah Jazz to a terrible Nets team playing out the string in Newark, N.J. And it's certainly not King's fault that Howard decided to act so wishy-washy for one fateful day in mid-March when Dwight chickened out and accepted his player option. And it's certainly no guarantee that -- even without Wallace or Johnson's contracts on board -- the Nets would have enough to deal for Howard.

It's worth wondering about, though. The Nets got their bird in the hand. Could they have pulled a second?

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