The New Jersey Nets made a bold move last season to acquire NBA megastar Deron Williams, but after a rough start to the 2011-12 season, that bold move may turn out to be nothing more than a high-profile rental for the struggling team out East.
A 12-26 start is not what the Nets and their fans were hoping for when the season began, but the injury to Brook Lopez and a lack of significant roster moves have put a damper on a season that seemed so filled with potential just a few months ago.
At this point, the future of Williams and the Nets is all speculation. Nobody knows exactly where Williams will be playing come next season—possibly not even Williams himself.
But let's be honest here: Deron Williams' future with the Nets could very well come down to just one thing—Dwight Howard.
Before the season even began, talks surrounding Howard to the Nets started to surface. The thought of the NBA's best big man playing alongside one of the league's best floor generals had fans chanting "we want Dwight" during the Nets' home game against the Orlando Magic in February.
Now, more than halfway through the season, Howard remains in Orlando and the potential move that was supposed to put an exclamation point on the Nets' season has left the team with more questions than answers.
While ESPN's Chris Broussard stated back in January that Williams' first choice is to transition with the team to Brooklyn and begin a new era of Nets basketball, he also mentioned the decision to stay is directly connected to the potential acquisition of Orlando's big man.
"If the Nets are able to obtain Howard, either through a trade before the March 15 deadline or in free agency this summer, Williams will re-sign," he wrote. "If Howard goes elsewhere, Williams is likely to leave New Jersey, according to the sources."
This is where the danger begins, and the possibility of the Nets finding themselves in the shoes of the 2010-11 Utah Jazz becomes very real.
Broussard also reported: "So if Orlando trades Howard before the deadline to a team he plans to re-sign with after the season, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets will begin exploring trades for Williams, a source said."
The chances of Williams being dealt this season remain contingent upon whether or not the Nets feel they can land Howard before the March 15 trade deadline.
If Howard ends up being sent to a team other than New Jersey, the Nets could find themselves quickly switching from buyers in the Howard sweepstakes to sellers in an attempt to bring back anything worth value for Williams.
If Howard is not dealt, however, the game could change in New Jersey.
It has been reported that Howard would like to sign with the Nets in the offseason as a way of allowing the team to keep most of its roster intact despite his potential arrival. While this sounds like a dream scenario for the Nets and their fans, the Magic have to be listening to this and realizing that their best option is to deal Howard before they lose him for nothing.
If Howard is dealt to any team other than the Nets by March 15, New Jersey loses out on a piece that would surely make it an instant contender heading into next season.
Despite a decent core consisting of Lopez, MarShon Brooks and whomever the team selects from next year's deep draft class, the Nets' championship aspirations just might wither away if they are unable to obtain Howard.
While Williams' first choice might be with the Nets, he's also remained noncommittal, telling HOOPSWORLD that winning a championship remains his biggest concern. “My priority is winning a championship,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to be next season, and I have to be ready to take my game to the next level, wherever I am.”
It has been reported that the Dallas Mavericks—one of Williams' target teams—would have a shot at signing the superstar point guard and possibly even pairing him alongside Howard next season. The question of how the Mavericks could afford such a dynamic sequence of signings is a reasonable one; but with the right trade partners, an unused amnesty and the possibility of Howard not being traded before the deadline, it seems as if the Mavericks could realistically bring in the two players together this offseason.
Williams, a Dallas area native, has commented on how much he enjoys playing in Dallas, and the question has to be asked whether or not that might be enough to draw him to the Mavericks, with or without Howard.
For Nets fans, bringing in Williams last season was well worth the risk, and acquiring Howard shouldn't be considered outside the realm of possibility just yet.
If New Jersey finds itself unsuccessful, though, when it comes to acquiring the best center in the game, the Williams experiment will likely come to an end, and the team will have to regroup and establish a new franchise piece as it makes its way into Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season.