Tyson Chandler's hunch that he'll be wearing a new uniform soon could prove to be true. And it may have nothing to do with Chandler and everything to do with Deron Williams.
With serious interest registered from the Nets, Golden State, Houston and Sacramento, four teams with cap space and flexibility, the man who served as the glue for the Mavericks' 2011 NBA title could be slipping away -- but for reasons that go well beyond the uncertain free-agent market for Chandler himself.
The Mavs are in no rush to pony up a max offer to retain Chandler, largely because they want to maintain flexibility for next summer's free-agent class -- which just happens to include Dallas' own Williams, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. While much of the speculation in this five-day run-up to the start of free agency Friday has centered around 2012 free agents Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, Williams' situation is in many ways more intriguing.
"Everything is sort of stuck because of Chris and Dwight," one agent said Monday.
Add Deron to that list.
The Nets traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks to Utah for Williams in February and are in the process of trying to assemble enough talent around him to keep him with the team when it moves to Brooklyn next season. Like Paul and Howard, Williams has an early-termination option that would make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Williams already has indicated he will not sign an extension this season, just as Paul and Howard will not. Howard remains intent on finding his way to Los Angeles to join the Lakers, while Paul has his sights set on New York -- though he remains open to a trade that would team him up with Howard in Orlando.
Williams spoke with members of the New York-New Jersey media Monday and proclaimed in a radio interview on New York's WFAN that there's a 90 percent chance he stays with the Nets. New Jersey has expressed interest in free agents Chandler, Nene and Caron Butler, but the big prize that would make D-Will's decision to stay on the East Coast a no-brainer would be a trade for Howard -- a tantalizing scenario that could play out one way or another by the end of the week.
New rules that dampen the home team's advantage in offering its own prospective free agent a significantly larger extension -- and essentially take away the extend-and-trade and sign-and-trade safety nets -- are expected to force the Hornets and Magic to make quick decisions on how to handle Paul's and Howard's impending free agency. The Nets, having given up so many assets for Williams, are in a position to be more patient and do everything possible to entice their star to stay put.
But if the Nets are unsuccessful in their efforts to land Howard -- Brook Lopez, first-round picks and absorbing Hedo Turkoglu's contract doesn't figure to be enough -- then Williams will have an interesting decision to make come July 1. And the buzz among front-office executives Monday was that Dallas owner Mark Cuban would be in a position to sell Williams on taking less money to play in his hometown.
Once Williams becomes a free agent, he could get a five-year, $100 million deal to stay with the Nets. Signing with Dallas would net Williams only a four-year, $74 million deal. How much playing in his hometown is worth to Williams would depend, in part, on what pieces the Nets surround him with between now and then.
Of the teams expected to contend for a championship this season, only Dallas would have the cap space to sign a max player next summer and still have room to do more. If the Mavs used the amnesty provision on Brendan Haywood next summer, they'd be more than $21 million under the cap -- with Dirk Nowitzki still around, draining jumpers.
Jason Terry and Jason Kidd come off the books after the season, and the Mavs will want their Hall of Fame point guard to pass the torch to a star in his prime and keep Nowitzki in the hunt for more titles during the final two years of his contract. In addition to Williams, Paul and Howard, the 2012 free-agent class is loaded with attractive restricted free agents, such as Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo and George Hill -- not to mention Derrick Rose, who nobody envisions leaving Chicago.
So the lackluster nature of this free-agent class compared to next summer's, combined with confusion about the new rules and an unwillingness to be the team that sets the market, have slowed the activity with four days to go before camps and free agency officially open. Also, don't underestimate how the shortened season provides an incentive for teams to pass on significant moves now when July 1 is only a few months away.
The biggest impediment to the wheeling and dealing in 2011 has everything to do with 2012 and beyond.