The Deron Williams free agent saga has reached its final chapter. According to ESPN.com, Williams informed his representatives that he will sign a long-term contract with the Brooklyn Nets or the Dallas Mavericks after July 1st—the starting date when free-agent signings are permissible in the NBA.
Howard signed a year-long extension on his contract with the Orlando Magic into the 2012-13 season, which means the Magic can trade Howard well into next season if the team chooses to do so.
The Houston Rockets have already begun to aggressively pursue Howard. According to Sports Illustrated, the Rockets just traded Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 18 pick in this Thursday's draft.
The Rockets now have the #14, #16, and #18 picks in the draft. Their goal is to amass enough first round picks to entice Orlando to trade Howard. If the Rockets don't nab Howard this week, who knows what other teams will compete for Howard's services in the upcoming months.
The Orlando Magic have a considerable amount of time to hold onto Howard and maximize his trade value. Williams won't have as long to sign with the Mavericks. These two combined factors could tip the scales toward Williams opting to play for a Mavericks, an already established championship contender.
The good news is that without Williams on its roster, the Nets will have $42 million in cap space to invest in free agents. While the 2011-12 free-agent market isn't teeming with superstars, there are plenty of solid investments the Nets can make to build a strong team without Williams.
The Nets can make some sound investments this summer, and save cap-space for a by far more promising 2013 free-agent market.
Here is a reasonable prediction for a Nets lineup in the 2012-13 season without Deron Williams
Goran Dragic may be the second best point guard on the free-agent market behind Deron Williams. Dragic—who studied under future Hall of Fame player Steve Nash in Phoenix between 2008 and 2010—was then traded to the Houston Rockets midway into the 2010 season.
Dragic played behind Kyle Lowry until midway in 2011 when Lowry was sidelined due to injuries.
As a starter for the Rockets over 28 games last season, Dragic averaged 18.0 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals.
Because the Nets have so much money in cap space, they can offer Dragic—an unrestricted free agent as of July 1st—a more lucrative long-term contract than most teams.
Dragic should demand a multi-year contract worth about $7 million a year. The Nets can easily offer an extra million and still get good value for the budding 26-year-old star.
The confident Dragic will want to joint a team where he has full-reign over the point guard position. There will be no competition against Dragic to assume this role in Brookyn. A speedy, pass first slasher, Dragic will effectively complement the Nets' Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
The upcoming 2012 free-agent market at the shooting guard position is lackluster, with players who have reached mediocre peaks in their careers and have little upside. Some of these players—like O.J. Mayo—have inflated restricted contracts (a qualifying offer of 7.4 million dollars) that the Nets should want no part of.
The obvious decision for the Nets is to give the promising MarShon Brooks—fresh off a solid rookie season—an opportunity to start at the 2-spot.
For $1.1 million, the Nets will start a player who, albeit a streaky scorer, has shown signs that he can become an 17-20 PPG guard. Brooks had nine 20-plus point outings in the shortened 2011-12 season.
Playing Brooks at the 2 is a win-win for the Nets. If Brooks has a let down season and fails to develop, then the Nets can opt out of Brooks' contract in 2013. The Nets can then pursue one of many shooting guards from the free-agent class of 2013.
The Nets former small forward Gerald Wallace opted to become a free agent this summer. Once an All-Star in 2008, Wallace has bee plagued with injuries since then.
An established squad will take a gamble on a 30-year-old Wallace in hopes that he can give them one injury-free season and greatly enhance its shot at a ring.
The Nets, currently a rebuilding team, shouldn't be the one taking that gamble.
The smarter play will be to slightly overpay 25-year-old restricted free agent Jeff Green to a three-year contract that would be less expensive than what Wallace will demand.
The small forward's value has lessened due to playing on the Boston Celtics bench in 2011 and to an aortic aneurysm that kept him on the sidelines in 2012. However, when healthy, Green is an athletic defender and strong corner shooter who still has room to improve his game.
In these respects, Green is a sounder investment than Wallace. If a Green signing doesn't work out in 2012, the Nets can play streaky shooter Anthony Morrow as an undersized small forward as Morrow has one year left on his contract at $4 million.
The Nets Daily has reported that Kris Humphries wants to remain a Net. The Nets should answer by re-signing the unrestricted free agent to a long-term deal in the range of a four-year, $36 million contract.
The 27-year-old Humphries is a rarity at the power forward position—a double-double machine who in 2011-12 averaged 11 rebounds a night (four offensive) and scored 14 points per game. Humphries is willing to efficiently do all the around-the-rim work for the Nets and that is the perfect reason to sign him.
Overpaying the 36-year-old free-agent superstar Kevin Garnett would be short-run move geared toward box-office sales as opposed to the Nets' future. Of course, that decision is a possibility, but more likely, Humphries will be the Nets more basketball-savvy choice.
The 7'0" center and restricted free agent is an enigma. In 2010-11, Lopez averaged 20 PPG and 1.5 blocked shots per game over 82 regular season contests.
However, what is extremely concerning about Lopez's game is that he grabbed an unusually low number of rebounds for a center (six per game) in 2011.
Lopez suffered a stress fracture in his right foot that kept him out for most of the 2011-12 season.
Even if Lopez remains a consistently healthy 20 point per game center, his anemic presence in the paint would be a major concern to the Nets on defense.
At any rate, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix has reported via Twitter that the Nets are most likely to match any offer made to the restricted free agent this summer:
"Several league execs believe Indiana and Brooklyn will match any offers for Roy Hibbert/Brook Lopez," stated Mannix.
Lopez is a high-priority acquisition for the Nets. The Nets only shot at trading for Dwight Howard will be if the Magic want to trade Howard for Lopez to be their new franchise player.
On the other hand, if the Nets can't acquire Howard, they will need to rely on Lopez to be their #1 option at the Barclays Center in the 2012-'13 season.
The latter seems to be the most likely scenario, as other teams will offer the Magic better packages for Howard than a franchise-priced center who is very much a gamble.