Nets miss out on Dwight Howard, continue to build a contender in East

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Three thousand miles away, Kobe Bryant declared that the delivery of Dwight Howard had transformed Los Angeles into the most talented team of his Lakers life. With the volume silenced on the television mounted on the wall, flickering images of a long, lost franchise center, here was the Brooklyn Nets general manager in a secluded alcove of the Barclays Center, a lavish court-level suite belonging to the most famous of the franchise's ownership partners.

His pursuit of Howard done, and nevertheless having still constructed an Eastern Conference contender with the Nets, Billy King would say of the Orlando Magic: "They were determined to send him West. I don't think they wanted to face him four times a year. Traditionally, superstars go out of their conference. In Philly, I sent [Allen] Iverson to Denver. Shaq went West, and back East. Carmelo [Anthony] went West to East. [Kevin] Garnett went West to East.

"And I knew I was fighting against that the whole time."

Across two years as the Nets GM, King had fought battles on multiple fronts against the sport's conventional wisdom. He wasn't selling New Jersey to prospective stars, but the promise of this spectacular edifice in the borough of Brooklyn. No more does King need to sell the Barclays Center with cardboard cut-out photos outside visiting locker room doors at the Newark Arena. Now, King sat on a leather sofa in something called "Jay-Z's vault," the backroom of backrooms and spoke of a different day coming in these superstar hostage crises.

Between King and his rising star of an assistant GM, Bobby Marks, the Nets' front office had become the traffic cop on most of the major trade scenarios of the past two years. King and Marks had relentlessly pursued deals for unhappy stars Howard and Carmelo Anthony, and secured Deron Williams in a trade hatched and consummated within 48 hours.

[Also: Kobe calls Lakers his most talented team ever]

Back to his years as the Philadelphia 76ers GM, King had been the executive responsible for sending Iverson to the Denver Nuggets in late 2006.

"I think players will still want to move, but I think how teams handle it could change," King says. "[Utah president] Kevin [O'Connor] made the decision to move [Williams] before [Williams] got frustrated and wanted out. When teams know they can't keep a guy, I think you're going to see them get ahead of it like [the Jazz] did. You'll see that more often. Hey, I wanted to move Allen sooner in Philadelphia than we did. I had a deal with Denver before that [2006-07] season, but their team was negotiating a sale so they couldn't do anything.

"I saw it coming with Allen," King says. "I wanted to get ahead of it and move him before it ended badly."

Looking back, King remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves trying hard to make a deal for Iverson to pair him with Garnett in '06, but it never happened. Between now and free agency in July, the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul could become that player again. He's a free agent on July 1, and the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are waiting with cap space and commitments to sell him.

Even now, the Mavericks and Hawks are waiting to see if somehow things get sideways with Howard and the Lakers, and Howard – however unlikely – balks on a contract extension come summer.

Nevertheless, the Brooklyn Nets are out of those conversations now. King has himself an intriguing roster in the Eastern Conference, a validation of some spectacular risk-reward deals these past two years. From the trades that secured him Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson without a commitment from Williams, King risked ridicule to stay true to a plan that ultimately vindicated him when Williams re-signed with the Nets.

[Also: Coach Tom Thibodeau's four-year extension with Bulls could hit $20M]

Even King's close friends in the league called, and told him he was making mistakes cutting those deals, that Williams would leave for Dallas without Howard coming to the Nets.

"For me," King says, "a lot of that belief to stay with the plan comes from the influence [King's college coach, Mike Krzyzewski] had on me. Every year, he has a plan for his season and he stays with it. Beyond the support I had from our ownership, so much of this has been because I was a product of [Krzyzewski's] operation."

From the failures of 'Melo and Howard, the Nets have moved on to a future with Williams and Brook Lopez, Wallace and Johnson. There was Howard on the television, wearing purple and gold, and King always knew: History says that stars get moved far away, and so the Lakers get a chance to chase championships with Superman now.

Against a lot of odds, though, the Nets still come to Brooklyn with a superstar point guard and a roster to make trouble for the Knicks and Madison Square Garden. Now, the Nets come across the Hudson River, come out of Jersey and into New York, and it changes the game for the franchise. Three thousand miles away, Dwight Howard found himself a Laker, but Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets were in these superstar fights to stay now.

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