All or Nothing

The New Jersey Nets have had a long history filled with some of the best players in the NBA, from Julius “Dr. J” Erving to Deron Williams. While the Nets have won two championships in the ABA (American Basketball Association), prior to the merger, they have yet to achieve greatness in the NBA. They came close in 2003 and 2004, but fell short to the Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and the Spurs, featuring Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Other than those few glorious years with Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, and Richard Jefferson, the Nets have been quite terrible. They hit their low point in the 2009-2010 season where they went 12-70, beginning that season with nineteen consecutive losses, a new NBA record. They have become a joke in the NBA, with practically all teams and analysts overlooking them, and rightfully so. Even in their home market, the Nets have been considered a secondary team behind the Knicks. Tickets can currently be purchased for $0.01 on Stubhub, demonstrating how poorly the fan base views their team.

Barclay's Center Rendering courtesy of

Despite all the negativity surrounding the franchise, especially in the last few seasons, there is reason for optimism. Most importantly is the change in ownership, with billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchasing the team from the inept Bruce Ratner. Since taking over, Prokhorov has made every effort to change the culture of the team starting with where they play. As a part of the deal that gave him majority ownership of the Nets, Prokhorov acquired 40% ownership of the Nets’ new arena in Brooklyn, the Barclay’s Center (which that can increase to 80% if certain financial conditions are reached). This state of art arena, scheduled to open September 28, 2012, will give Nets fans a reason to come to games. Their two previous arenas to the Barclays Center, the IZOD Center and Prudential Center, are known to be two of the worst venues in the entire NBA. The IZOD Center is located in the swampy Meadowlands and the Prudential Center was built as a hockey arena, not basketball. It’s no wonder why fans were unenthusiastic about making the trek to these two locations.

The second part of Prokhorov’s “Blueprint for Greatness,” a phrase promoted by minority owner Jay-Z, was to acquire a superstar to lead the way into Brooklyn. For many months, Nets fans were led to believe that star was Carmelo Anthony. As a native of Brooklyn who grew up a short distance from where the new arena is being built, it seemed like a perfect fit. This entire situation, known as the “Melo-drama,” became the headline of the 2010-2011 season. Melo had demanded a trade from the Nuggets, and the Nets were hopeful in being able to capitalize on the situation by offering 3rd overall pick in the previous draft, Derrick Favors, their unprotected first round pick in the upcoming draft, and many other assets. Obviously, with the Nets fortune they lost out on Melo, who refused to play for New Jersey, and he was traded to their crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks.

Mikhail Prokhorov Courtesy of

Things seemed bleak for the Nets and their fans, as they would go to their new arena without a star to generate any excitement; however, Nets General Manager Billy King was able to swing a deal that landed All-Star point guard Deron Williams in exchange for most of the assets offered for Melo. This was viewed as a surprise to everyone since it came out of nowhere and transpired so quickly, but it was deemed a solid consolation prize. Deron would be the face of the franchise as they made their move to Brooklyn. The only hitch in the trade — there was no commitment from Deron that he would stay with the team after this current season, since he would be able to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. The Nets had given up tremendous assets to acquire Williams and without a commitment, were taking a great risk. Steadfast in their pursuit to turn the franchise around, the Nets’ management are convinced they will be able to make him stay, but Williams has already claimed that he will opt-out and test the free agent market before making a decision on his future.

This could very well be the single most important season in Nets franchise history. If the Nets’ are unable to convince Deron to stay with the team long term they will be in a deep, deep hole. They will have traded away Devin Harris, the 3rd pick in the 2010 draft, Derrick Favors, and the 3rd overall pick of the 2011 draft, Enes Kanter, for a season and a half of Deron. Fortunately, there is still a glimmer hope. Before the season, All-Star center, Dwight Howard, expressed his desire to be traded from the Orland Magic. He did not make it a firm demand, claiming that if the Magic were able to compete for a championship he might stay. Howard tempered the optimism for the Magic after he provided a list of teams he would prefer to be traded to. This list consisted of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and the New Jersey Nets. Howard has significant leverage in this situation, since he, like Deron, can opt out at the end of the season. This situation closely resembles what happened with Shaquille O’Neal, where he left Orlando and bolted for the bright lights of Hollywood. Now Orlando must deal with a similar situation — they can trade Howard for less than equal compensation or watch him leave via free agency in the summer (he would be giving up $30 million over the life of his next contract in doing so).

Deron Williams courtesy of

The Nets are viewed as the favorite to land Dwight either through a trade or free agency. The Mavericks do not have the assets to pull off a trade, and they can only acquire Howard in the summer when he becomes a free agent. The Lakers have the assets to trade for Howard, but Orlando’s asking price of both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol may be too steep for Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. More so, recent reports indicate that Howard has soured to the idea of joining the Lakers. He supposedly does not want to follow in the shoes of Shaq (who has criticized Howard publicly on several occasions), and does not want to be a secondary or possibly tertiary option behind Kobe Bryant and Gasol. There is also news citing that the only team Howard will sign an extension with is the Nets. If traded anywhere else, Howard is expected to opt of his contract and test free agency before making his decision, scaring off other potential suitors. In short, it is up to the Nets to make the necessary moves to acquire Howard.

The brain trust of Billy King, Assistant General Manager Bobby Marks, Head Coach Avery Johnson, and Mikhail Prokhorov have to make a decision on how to handle this dilemma. They can follow the same path as the Knicks did with Melo and trade away multiple draft picks and talented big man Brook Lopez, and possibly rookie standout MarShon Brooks for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu (thus absorbing his albatross contract), securing Howard before he hits free agency, or wait until the summer when Howard will most likely opt out and then proceed to sign him as a free agent. That would enable to the Nets to keep all of their draft picks and young talent, while adding the best center of this generation. To many, this seems like the most logical path to take, since the Nets would not have to destroy their depth to acquire Howard, but there is a huge risk involved. In order for the Nets to sign Howard, he must be a free agent. That means that he would also be able to sign with any other team that has the available cap, like the Mavericks. The Mavs are in an interesting position, in that they let several key players from their championship team walk away to preserve cap space for this upcoming offseason. With a few more salary dumps (Shawn Marion specifically) via trade, an amnesty on Brendan Haywood and expiring contracts, the Mavs will have enough room to potentially sign both Deron (if he does opt out) and Howard.

Dwight Howard courtesy of

In the end, the Nets have to make several huge decisions before the March 15th trade deadline and during the offseason. This season has the potential to alter the franchise’s outlook for the next decade. In their move to Brooklyn, the Nets can possibly have the best point guard-center duo in the league with Deron and Howard, or go there as another rebuilding project. If the Nets were to acquire Howard, a franchise known for losing would now be able to compete with the upper echelon teams, while creating a unique rivalry between the Knicks and Nets. Two marquee teams battling over territorial bragging rights would make the “Mecca of Basketball” even more entertaining. All Nets fans can do is hope that the Nets upper management makes the right moves and rewards their fan base with a team that doesn’t require aspirin to watch.

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