I don't say this as conjecture, hearsay, rumor, or anything of that nature. I say it because Dwight Howard is officially off of the table.
Now Deron Williams has nobody to play with.
Last spring we praised the Nets for taking a gamble. They rolled the dice that with Williams they'd be able to convince Dwight Howard to come and form their own super team. For months it looked like their gamble was going to pay off.
And then he opted in.
When this happened, their bet lost. The dealer showed an ace, and rather than taking the insurance, the Nets chose to stick with what they had. Just don't be surprised when the dealer reveals a king in July.
Simply put, Williams no longer has a reason to stay. He can go to his hometown Dallas Mavericks and play with Dirk Nowitzki. He can force a sign-and-trade to Los Angeles to play for the L.A. Lakers. Heck, given the disaster that's taking place across the river, he might even be able to convince the New York Knicks to give up on Linsanity for him.
But with the Nets? He'd be carrying a 15-29 team into a new city without the assets to improve. Their top-five pick in June's loaded draft? Gone, courtesy of their decision to trade for Gerald Wallace. The cap space they planned to use to sign Howard? Also gone with the Wallace trade, as well as the extension they'll have to use to bring back Brook Lopez.
In other words, the team they have now will be the team the Nets take to Brooklyn.
Mikhail Prokhorov's refusal to rebuild the traditional way will ultimately come back to bite the Nets. By trading Williams, New Jersey could have brought in a long-term building block to revitalize this franchise. They could have asked the Lakers for Andrew Bynum, the Warriors for Stephen Curry or the Celtics for Rajon Rondo.
Let's say they take Bynum, because that's the most realistic. They also get both of LA's first-round picks. All of the sudden, without the Wallace trade, the Nets get to move forward with Andrew Bynum, Brook Lopez, Marshon Brooks and three first-round picks in the best draft in almost a decade. You Bobcat fans out there are probably salivating at the thought of a team like this, but the Nets turned it down.
The side effect of this deal is that it makes them worse in the short run. Can you say tankapalooza? Because there happens to be a pretty big prize for the winner of May's lottery. Kentucky's Anthony Davis has been so dominant as a freshman that he will likely become just the second first-year player (after Kevin Durant, bet you've heard of him) to win all of the major national player of the year awards.
If the Nets win the right to draft Davis, they'd probably use Brook Lopez in a sign-and-trade and would get to go forward with the league's best young frontcourt (Anthony Davis and Andrew Bynum), a young volume scorer who has All-Star potential (Marshon Brooks) and a treasure trove of first-round picks netted from the Williams and Lopez deals.
On the more realistic side of things, let's say the Nets end up picking third or fourth after a Williams deal. No, there isn't another Anthony Davis in the draft, but his teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would be a pretty nice consolation prize. As would Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes or really any number of other players who will be available.
So naturally, with the Nets sitting in the sixth spot for the draft at the moment, they decide it would be a good idea to trade that pick for 29-year-old Gerald Wallace. In other words, the draft may be Davis or bust for the Nets.
All this just to attempt to appease a player who doesn't want to be there. If Deron Williams really wanted to be a Net long-term, he would have signed an extension last summer. The one bit of hope the Nets had was the possibility of teaming him up with Dwight Howard. Well, the golden carrot of Howard is no longer dangling above Deron's head.
Deron Williams will not waste another year of his prime playing on a mediocre team. He will not opt in to his contract and he will leave as a free agent this summer. It's a sad reality, but one the Nets could have avoided. They gave up a king's ransom to get him, but even so the future would have been bright if they just had the sense of reality to trade him.
They didn't, and now the Nets will watch him leave for nothing in July. I hope you enjoy mediocrity, Brooklyn, because that's what you will get.