Why the Future of the Nets Franchise Will Be Determined in the Next Month

Brian GiuffraContributor IFebruary 27, 2012

The future of the Nets franchise is in Deron Williams hands
The future of the Nets franchise is in Deron Williams handsMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With the NBA All-Star Weekend over and the March 15 trade deadline fast-approaching, the countdown has officially begun on the Nets' future.

Not just their near future and whether they can trade for Dwight Howard this year, but the entire future of the franchise.

That’s how important this next month will be to them.

With their $1 billion Barclays Center stadium nearly complete in Brooklyn and the team trying to sell themselves as legitimate contenders to take over New York from the Knicks when they head across the Hudson and East Rivers next year, the time has come for the Nets to go all in. They have to show their eagerly awaiting fanbase that they mean business and that they will be a title contender—or at minimum a playoff contender—next year.

If they don’t, they could wind up with a $1 billion check to pay and no one paying them to see the product they’re putting on the court.

That fate will be determined in the next three weeks.

The Nets have to extend the contract of Deron Williams in the offseason and somehow pull off a trade with the Orlando Magic to acquire Howard before the deadline has past. If they don’t, they risk losing everything.

Williams. The picks and players they traded for Williams. Howard. Money. Buzz. Relevance. A winning record. A sellable product. Fans. It’s all on the table. And it’s there because of the investment they put into Williams.

When the Nets traded for Williams from the Utah Jazz last year, they put the future of the franchise into that trade. Two first-round picks, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Derrick Favors, and even one-time apparent franchise savior Devin Harris all went to the Utah in return for Williams and his contact that expires this summer.

If they lose Williams when he becomes a free agent, that would be a crippling blow to the franchise that would take a decade to undo. It would also make the franchise appear like a sinking ship no NBA player would want to be a part of.

Think about it: From the outside looking in, another NBA player considering a move to the Nets would have to wonder why Williams, who has been treated like the golden child since his arrival in New Jersey, wouldn’t want to stay with the franchise that has built its future around him.

The conclusion I imagine they would come to is Williams doesn’t think the Nets have a chance at winning a NBA title in the next 10 years, a prospect that would likely push potential stars away from the Nets.

But if Williams re-ups his contract and the Nets somehow get Howard, now you’re talking about one of the premier franchises in the NBA in the biggest market in the county. Other quality players would flock to the Nets for less money knowing they can earn endorsement contracts to subsidize the move. Fans would fill the Barclays Center to watch Williams and Howard combine for highlight alley-oops. The New York media would hype the duo like they have for Jeremy Lin.

The Nets would undoubtedly become a contender in the East and NBA. And the money would flow in from the five boroughs and even New Jersey, where the Nets will still have a fanbase.

That’s the projected reality the Nets are trying to sell to their fans right now and it all sounds great. It could also become a reality if the Nets do what they’ve said they’re going to do: re-sign Williams and trade for Howard.

But if they don’t get Howard, Williams, who has consistently said the most important thing for him is playing for a winning franchise, is gone. And with him goes all the hopes and dreams the Nets have. Which way it goes will be determined in the next three weeks.  

The countdown has begun. The Nets have to go all in now. Their future hangs in the balance.