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Nets, Hawks look like winners after trade, while Dwight Howard's left holding the bag

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The Nets win another battle for their move to Brooklyn with D-Will re-signing. (US Presswire)  
The Nets win another battle for their move to Brooklyn with D-Will re-signing. (US Presswire)  

A contingent from the Brooklyn Nets met with free-agent point guard Deron Williams on Monday night, and so much was riding on that courtship. The fortunes of multiple franchises were riding on it, a game of high-stakes, superstar musical chairs.

When the music stops, there's a strong belief Williams will sign up to be the king of New York with the Nets, the magnet that lured All-Star backcourt mate Joe Johnson and allowed the Nets to relocate to Brooklyn next season with a compelling, competitive team. Brooklyn can offer the kind of riches Williams can only achieve by staying, not to mention visibility that his representatives believe is unique to the market.

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The only wild card is Williams’ unpredictable personality, but Nets officials -- GM Billy King chief among them -- who committed to four years of Joe Johnson at a $90 million price tag should have a good enough feel for that by now. Though a person close to Williams said Monday night the point guard has been waffling lately on the decision between Brooklyn and Dallas -- "He changes every day," the person said -- it’s impossible to believe that the Nets would’ve brought Johnson on board at that price without a wink and a nod from Williams that he was going to Brooklyn, too.

"Never has there been a more wasted trip," one industry source said of a meeting earlier in the day between the Mavs and Williams. Evidently, Mavs owner Mark Cuban felt the same way, because he didn’t even attend.

A decision from Williams on whether to accept the Nets’ five-year, $98.75 million offer is expected long before the All-Star point guard leaves for Team USA training camp in Las Vegas on Thursday. Only then can we fully evaluate what the Nets will put on the floor in Brooklyn next season and the fallout on multiple other fronts from Monday’s trade -- not the least of which is the future of Dwight Howard.

Howard, or at least those working on his behalf, had been pushing for the better part of a year for the All-Star center to land in Brooklyn next season with Williams. After the Nets filled up their cap space with Gerald Wallace and Johnson this week, Howard’s camp has all but written off that possibility. It is "doubtful" that Howard will reassess his position that he would only sign a long-term deal if traded to the Nets, according to a league source, meaning the Magic center is hell-bent on reaching unrestricted free agency in 2013. It will be new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan’s sole purpose in life to prevent this from happening.

Hennigan already was working on this Tuesday morning, re-engaging the Nets and other teams in Howard trade talks. The latest scenario Orlando was exploring with Brooklyn would involve the signing-and-trading of Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries along with MarShon Brooks and multiple first-round picks, sources said. The Nets' framework, spurred by Brooklyn's acquisition of Johnson, wasn't imminent and wasn't the only one Orlando was working on, two people familiar with the situation said. Atlanta, Houston, the Lakers and Dallas also were among the teams the Magic were looking to engage.

The idea of Williams going to Dallas this summer and Howard joining him a year from now? Technically possible, but then what would the point have been for the Magic to refuse to trade him all this time if they’re just going to let him walk a year later?

It’s not clear yet who actually won with Monday’s blockbuster trade of Johnson to the Nets, but we know one thing: the Magic didn’t lose. If Hennigan and whatever coach he hires -- presumably, Pacers assistant Brian Shaw -- have the stomach and patience to get through the rest of the summer this way, then they hold the cards. With Howard’s preferred trade destination, Brooklyn, now essentially cut off, Orlando can sit back and let the best offers come to then.

As for any possible grievance over whether Howard was somehow coerced into waiving his right to free agency this summer at the March trade deadline, a legal source said, "I would think there would be very little chance of Dwight prevailing."

Though it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Nets landing an All-Star running mate in their effort to keep Williams, the real winner may ultimately wind up being the Hawks. In the span of two hours Monday, new GM Danny Ferry rid the franchise of Johnson’s crippling contract and eradicated the draft miscue of the decade, Marvin Williams, who was traded to the Jazz for Devin Harris. If not for the Hawks choosing Williams No. 2 in the 2005 draft -- one spot ahead of Deron Williams and Chris Paul, respectively -- none of what happened Monday would’ve transpired.

In case you’re curious, Utah was willing to take on Williams and the extra year on his contract at $7.5 million for Harris’ expiring $8.5 million contract as the secondary piece to the trade that brought in point guard Mo Williams over the weekend. The Jazz didn’t want Harris and Mo Williams, so the Marvin Williams-Harris swap cleans up the roster and justifies being the facilitator in the deal that sent Lamar Odom from the Mavs to the Clippers. Think of it as trading one Harris for two Williamses, if that makes sense.

But back to the Hawks, who cleared $29 million in cap space for next season and thus put themselves in position to pounce if Howard, an Atlanta native, wanted to join fellow Atlanta native and former AAU teammate Josh Smith in 2013. What’s more, the Hawks would have ample room for another max player next summer, and one executive I was on the phone with Monday night spat out the name before I could even finish my rhetorical question: Chris Paul. So basically, Monday was just about the best day in Atlanta Hawks history -- which isn’t saying much, which is why it was just about the best day in Atlanta Hawks history, with the strong promise of much better ones to come.

Still, trades are not like games or playoff series. Both teams can win, for different reasons and on different timelines. It was a win for the Nets, too, provided they close the deal with Deron Williams and bring that All-Star backcourt to Brooklyn next season. Johnson is far from the prize Howard was, but the Nets could no longer wait to see how the Dwightmare was going to unfold -- couldn’t put off their mandate to put a compelling team on the floor next season for owner Mikhail Prokhorov any longer.

"They got tired of waiting on Dwight," one person familiar with the Nets’ strategy said.

Assuming D-Will is on board, the Nets will have Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace (who agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal) and a re-signed Brook Lopez to make up a core ready to compete in the East. Free-agent Kris Humphries is another asset at their disposal. They retained promising guard MarShon Brooks and their own first-round pick in the Johnson deal and are preparing to make a run at Bosnian stretch forward Mirza Teletovic. It is strongly believed Jason Kidd wants to re-join the Nets as Williams’ backup, a fitting end to his Hall of Fame career. All of this is not too shabby.

Once the dust settles, the Nets will have the non-taxpayer mid-level starting at $5 million, the biannual exception of $1.96 million and minimum deals to fill out the roster. Barclays Center won’t be dull next season. Everybody wins.

Everybody except Howard. Unless, that is, the All-Star finally somehow gets what he wants.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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