At 24-58, the Nets finished nowhere near the playoffs. Still, they are thrilled to be picking 27th and 36th -- for now -- in the June 23 draft.
Deron Williams was the reason the Nets watched rather than played a part in the May 17 lottery in Secaucus, N.J. Given the choices, they'll take a proven star like Williams any day over any collegiate star, regardless of how high the upside, how strong the hype, how impressive the projections.
Plus, general manager Billy King is very comfortable picking late, although he already has said publicly he is trying to both move up in the selection process and also wants to get another pick to flesh out a roster that badly needs more support around Williams. King believes he can uncover help, even if the Nets stay put with their current selections.
"You can get a player," King said. "Generally when you're picking down there, you're generally going to get four-year guys who are more ready to play, maybe not in a starting role, but as a part of the piece of the puzzle. You're getting guys that understand that ... they may not start right away."
And history has shown over and over that diamonds can be found in late selection rough. King's experience in Philadelphia validates that. He drafted Todd McCulloch and Lou Williams with second-round picks.
"Sometimes you can get guys late in the first that were just overlooked," King said. "You can use all types of examples. Tony Parker was 29. (Manu) Ginobili was late in the second. Gilbert Arenas, second."
The Nets, along with the Rockets and Knicks, put together a draft combine May 7-8 at the Nets' practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J. There were 44 draft hopefuls auditioning for 29 teams. The Nets' brass also planned on attending a similar workout in Minnesota following the annual Chicago pre-draft camp. The workout in New Jersey featured possible second-rounders and maybe a late first-round pick or two.
"Number one, we want to see if they're in shape," King said of the combines. "Because it's like going for a job interview. If you come in and you're not dressed for the job and you're not prepared ...
"So my thing is if you come here and you're not prepared, then that sends a signal," King continued. "Next we want to see how well you play. Do you play within the team concept? Are you selfish? Are you a good teammate? You're looking at those things. And you're looking at footwork. You're looking at guys defensively. But the main thing I'm looking for is, is the guy in shape and does he play within the team?"
After a six-month quest to land Carmelo Anthony in one of the most public trade scenarios in memory, and one that wore on players, the Nets failed when the Nuggets and Knicks agreed on a deal. But within two days, the Nets quietly landed a star of comparable magnitude, Deron Williams, for a lesser cost. They sent Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and $3 million to Utah for the All-Star. The deal was a calculated but necessary gamble because Williams can opt out for free agency after next season.
The Nets' disappointment began well before the season even started. The grandiose free agent plan was to recruit LeBron James -- the Nets gave their presentation first -- but it became apparent rather quickly that would not happen. Even quicker was the collapse of their backup plan, the signing of Rudy Gay, who agreed to stay in Memphis on the first day of free agency. The Nets wound up signing a backup power forward, Travis Outlaw, for their starting small forward job.
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