|Nets fans may see New Jersey get another shot at Dwight Howard after next season. (US Presswire)|
The Nets are confident Deron Williams will join them in Brooklyn next season. They were confident Howard would be there, too. And so if the histrionics over Howard's decision to stay in Orlando last week taught us anything, it's that nobody really knows what players are thinking. Nobody knows what they'll do when faced with a career-shaping decision until they actually make the decision.
The Nets might very well be right back in the running for Howard at next season's trade deadline, or in the summer of 2013, when Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent -- no ifs, ands or opt-outs about it. But what the Nets really needed was for Howard to commit now, to force his way to the Nets via a trade or at the very least, preserve his ability to opt out this summer and join them as a free agent. What the Nets really needed was a magnet to keep Williams firmly anchored in their plans, and well, Howard's decision left the All-Star point guard floating in never-never land -- somewhere between Newark, Brooklyn, Dallas and points unknown.
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A person who has worked with Williams on a daily basis in the past reiterated this week that going home to Dallas remains an overwhelmingly attractive option for the 27-year-old point guard, who was shipped to the Nets against his will in what turned out to be a brilliant move by the Utah Jazz last February. Rather than get trampled by the prospective free-agent onslaught (see James, LeBron; Anthony, Carmelo; and Howard, Dwight), the Jazz tapped out and accelerated their recovery from Williams' inevitable departure. But the Nets are in a different kind of predicament. It technically cost them nothing for Howard to say no, but for Williams, they gave up a massive haul of assets -- Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round picks. They're all in with Williams and kind of need to see this one through to the end.
In a Plan B of sorts, the Nets sent another first-round pick to the Trail Blazers as part of a deal for Gerald Wallace, who'd be a nice piece of the puzzle if and when the Nets get another top-tier star and/or lottery pick to entice Williams to stay. The pick is top-three protected, and the Nets' belief is that there were only three players in the draft for whom it would be worth passing on Wallace: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. There are risks in the basketball business, and you go nowhere without taking some. The Nets still have the Rockets' first-round pick in the upcoming draft, top-14 protected.
Williams' agent, Jeff Schwartz, is a known proponent of the New York market and what it can offer star players in terms of endorsements and visibility they can't get anywhere else. Schwartz's presumed role in Williams' decision after he opts out July 1 and becomes a free agent ordinarily would be comforting to the Nets, who took a gamble that was worth taking and now must let the chips fall where they may. But as we learned from Howard's stunning decision -- stunning, perhaps most of all, to his agent, Dan Fegan, who'd been telling anyone and everyone that Dwight was Brooklyn-bound -- it's the player's decision at the end of the day. So what might make business sense to Schwartz and basketball sense to the Nets might not compute to Williams, who is free to do whatever he wants.
It's a free country, and a tangled web the Nets have woven, one rife with risk that was worth taking. A hopelessly meandering franchise that has never been able to find a permanent home didn't need a timid plan heading to Brooklyn next season. Bold was the way to go. Just don't make the same mistake everyone made with Howard. Don't presume to know what Williams is thinking or what he's going to do. Don't read anything into Williams, for the first time as a Net, blowing off the media Monday night after a crushing 105-100 loss to the Cavaliers. Don't read body language, search for hidden meaning in quotes or try to predict the future.
You do that, and you'll just drive yourself crazy. That's the Nets' job.
You must, however, read the rest of this week's post-trade deadline Postups.
• Other than Howard committing to the Magic for another season, the most significant fallout from last week's events may very well reside with a player who wasn't traded, didn't request a trade and won't have a chance to be a free agent again until after next season. That would be Carmelo Anthony, who whether by design or not (and I believe not) was as responsible as anyone for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's decision to resign. Anthony forced his way to New York in hopes of thriving in the league's biggest market, using his star power, marketability and world-class talent to raise his profile beyond anything he was able to achieve in Denver. And yet what Anthony has to show for it thus far is a 35-38 record since the trade, a first-round playoff sweep and the departure of D'Antoni -- the coach who, if he'd been empowered by the organization, could have turned Melo into the all-around All-Star he should be.
Whatever the reasons for D'Antoni's failure to connect with Melo and however the team performs under interim coach Mike Woodson (who started 3-0 after D'Antoni resigned) are really beside the point. As most NBA teams do, the Knicks sent a message last week that it's all about their best player and biggest star, and that's Anthony by a mile. And whatever coach gets the permanent job (and I use that term loosely) next season will have his marching orders clearly defined: it's Melo's team, nobody else's.
Here's hoping it's an established championship coach with the clout and resume to demand from Anthony what D'Antoni wouldn't, or couldn't. (Phil Jackson, please hang up your robe, stop humming to yourself and get thee to the 8 Penn Plaza entrance of the Garden.) Because whether Anthony realizes it or not, his reputation has not soared since he became a Knick; to the contrary, it's plummeted.
Among the greatest honors and marketing opportunities NBA stars have is to play with Team USA in the Olympics, and a person with ties to international basketball told CBSSports.com that Anthony's role in D'Antoni's demise -- however unintended -- did not sit well with USA Basketball authorities. D'Antoni, of course, is an assistant coach with Team USA. Anthony is by no means a coach killer, but his hold on a prominent role with the team in the London Olympics could be jeopardized by how his body of work with the Knicks is viewed by Team USA officials. Anthony plays the four spot internationally, and if Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo could have LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love or Blake Griffin -- talented players who wouldn't need star treatment and who'd accept whatever role afforded them -- would they think twice about trusting Anthony?
"I don't even think Carmelo is thinking about this, but I think it's going to hurt him," the international basketball source said. "I don't think he's playing as well as the other power forwards are right now. He's not a bad guy, but he needs to start playing better because the USA team is looking at that, and Mike is an assistant. It should not be given to him."
• Wow, Warriors fans were not overly enthused with the team's decision to trade Monta Ellis for a broken-down center, were they? Their merciless booing of owner Joe Lacob during Chris Mullin's number retirement ceremony Monday night made that abundantly clear.
Here's another way to look at the trade, if I may. The move wasn't simply about breaking up the ill-fitting backcourt of Ellis and Stephen Curry, about giving promising rookie Klay Thompson a chance to develop or even about getting Andrew Bogut, a 27-year-old center who's one of the most impactful 7-footers in the game when healthy.
An underrated aspect of the trade has to do with the Warriors' first-round pick, which is conditionally owned by Utah. By exchanging Ellis and Ekpe Udoh for Bogut (who is unlikely to play the rest of the season after fracturing his ankle in January), the Warriors took a calculated gamble. They could have kept trudging down their well-worn path to mediocrity, but instead doubled down on Bogut and the draft.
Presumably, the Warriors will be worse in the short term, thus having a better chance of retaining the Utah pick, which is top-seven protected. (Just in case, the Warriors flipped Stephen Jackson's bad contract for Richard Jefferson's worse contract and a conditional first-round pick from the Spurs.) Let's call it what it is: a glorified form of tanking. And as Warriors fans showed Monday night, they're fed up with promises and what will soon be 18 seasons with one lousy playoff appearance.
For his part, Lacob has done little to reassure those who thought it couldn't get worse than the Chris Cohan era. By promising a playoff team this season (unrealistic) and working to move the team to San Francisco, Lacob has further alienated one of the most passionate fan bases in the league. So, boo all you want. You're more than entitled. You deserve it. But the trade for Bogut, the potential of Thompson and the possibility of retaining the Utah pick shouldn't be viewed through the prism of past incompetence. Even though Warriors fans are well within their rights to see it that way.
• Nice gamble by the Nuggets to get out of what they'd come to believe was a mistake -- giving Nene a five-year, $67 million deal only three months ago -- and parlaying his value into a 21-game audition for JaVale McGee.
|The Nuggets have a message for JaVale McGee: time to focus on becoming a mature NBA player. (Getty Images)|
I agree. McGee, 24, has comparable per-36-minute numbers in an admittedly shorter, maturity-challenged career. But he's athletic, talented, 7-feet tall with a 7-6 wingspan, and will benefit from the organizational control in Denver -- not to mention George Karl's coaching. In fact, McGee already has been told certain things he was allowed to do in Washington won't be tolerated with the Nuggets. And GM Masai Ujiri, who scouted McGee when he was at Nevada-Reno, did his homework. McGee isn't a party guy; he's sort of geeky and techie and, well, he was all of 23 years old up until two months ago.
The Nuggets get to take a look at McGee under their coaching with their players and decide if they're going to pay him when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The message has been delivered that his basketball career from age 18-23 is over; it's time to focus on what mark he's going to make on the game from 24-30.
If Karl and Ujiri like McGee as much as USA Basketball officials did when he was in the program two summers ago -- as an injury replacement for Brook Lopez -- then the Nuggets may have found a keeper. In the short term, the Nuggets get even more athletic by trading for McGee and signing Wilson Chandler to a five-year, $31 million deal plus performance incentives. Plus -- and this is no small matter -- they've created more space for promising rookie Kenneth Faried to operate on the floor and grow as a player.
So why did the Wizards make this trade? They had to start changing the culture in the locker room, and at some point, John Wall needed to be surrounded by veteran talent. Another reminder that when you're trying to accomplish one thing in the NBA, chances are you'll find a trading partner who's trying to do the opposite.
• The game of agent musical chairs continued this week with news Kevin Durant, who recently left Aaron Goodwin, has signed with Kobe Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka. Durant is, by all accounts, 1,000 percent committed to Oklahoma City and is locked up for four more seasons after this one -- with no player options or opt-out clauses. Goodwin has lost some of the biggest clients in the game in recent years, with LeBron James switching to Leon Rose, Dwight Howard going to Dan Fegan and now Durant.
But Howard's decision to opt into the final year of his contract for next season means that Goodwin won't walk away from their relationship completely empty-handed. Since Howard's $19.5 million for next season was negotiated by Goodwin under his previous contract, the commission goes to Goodwin. Fegan, who signed Howard as a client in July 2010, will have to wait for Howard's next contract to get commissioned on anything other than endorsement income.
Since football is very much in the news this week with Peyton Manning's decision to sign with the Broncos, it's worth resurrecting a famous quote from Bill Parcells about the NFL as it applies to the NBA agent business: "It's not a game for the well-adjusted."
• How much did Ricky Rubio mean to the Timberwolves? Oh, just a lil' bit.
Minnesota is 18-13 (.581) with Rubio as its starting point guard this season and 5-11 (.313) with him either coming off the bench or out with an injury. One unintended consequence of Rubio's absence was the frustration that spilled over into a timeout as J.J. Barea and Kevin Love barked at each other during a brutal loss in Sacramento on Sunday. Another is that the Timberwolves' unprotected first-round pick traded from the Clippers to the Hornets in the Chris Paul trade has a chance to get a lot better before the season is over. One rival executive, however, says don't count on it. "I don't think Rick Adelman blew out his knee or forgot how to coach," he said.