While 16 NBA teams started to prepare for the Post Season on Friday; the other franchises in the Association spent the day cleaning out their lockers and bidding farewell to teammates and coaches; some for the last time as members of their current clubs. Friday also marked the end of an era for the New Jersey Nets, who are moving out of the state they have played in for the last 35 years, with shouts of “Good riddance” from Governor Chris Christie ringing in their ears.
The team is heading back to the “Empire State” playing in a new home in Brooklyn, as they will host games in a brand new, lavish, state of the art arena starting next season. Although the facility will be undoubtedly among the finest in the Association; the same assurances can not be claimed for the caliber of the team that will be its tenant this fall. The Nets are coming off of a less than stellar 22-44 campaign and are a team in transition, with many of their best players eligible to become Free Agents on July 1.
Veteran forward Gerald Wallace who came to the team in a mid-season trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, can opt-out of the final year of his current contract; while talented young center Brook Lopez will be a restricted Free Agent this summer. Although the Nets want to keep both players on their roster; their biggest priority will be to convince All-Star point guard Deron Williams to put his signature on a long-term deal. Williams is the player that the franchise wants to build their squad around, as well as being the guy the Nets build their marketing campaign around; to tempt fans into buying a season-ticket package.
New Jersey acquired the point guard in a deal last season with the Utah Jazz; sending Utah a group of young talented players in exchange for D-Will. The trade has worked out positively for the Jazz, as the former Nets players helped the squad make the Playoffs this season; the same can not be said for the results in New Jersey, as the franchise has shown little progress since Williams came to the club.
The Nets tried to pull off a trade early in the campaign that would have sent Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard to the team in exchange for a package built around Lopez. The young center was hurt early in the season; which put discussions on hold and Howard later committed to playing under the conditions of his current contract; instead of opting out, as he was expected to do.
Although the All-Star point guard has yet to rule out signing a long-term deal with his current team; he has yet to show any indications that he will stay. Williams did tell reporters on Friday according to a report from “ESPN.com” that he wants a new deal in place before the start of this summer’s Olympic Games, which will get underway in London on July 28. The point guard told media members that he did not want to head into defending the Gold for Team USA while his future still unclear. Realistically, Williams should have signed a new contract long before the deadline he imposed on Friday; as upper-echelon players are usually signed within days of the beginning of Free Agency.
When Williams was asked about playing for his current team in their new arena he responded “It would be great to be a part of that first game, first team there, and start our own legacy in Brooklyn. So that’s definitely enticing and something I think about on a regular basis.”
The guard who just completed his seventh season in the Association, told media members that the factor that will determine where he makes his next home will be whether he believes that the team that wants him on their roster; either is or soon will be a contender in the NBA. Whether Williams believes the Nets to fall into that category is the question that the Nets as well as their fans are waiting to find out.
It is common knowledge that the defending NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, will make an all-out push to sign the guard and other teams that are still playing could be interested in him as well. Is Ramon Sessions the answer at the point for the Los Angeles Lakers; or will they try to jettison big man Pau Gasol to sign Williams? If the Heat fall short of making the Finals, would they explore trading Chris Bosh to bring the point guard on board? Will the Knicks allow Jeremy Lin to sign with a new team and ship out either Carmelo or Amar’e to bring Williams to Madison Square Garden?
For the Nets to have any realistic chance of retaining their All-Star, they have to convince him that he be the nucleus of a young, exciting and successful squad. In less than two months, we will find out whether they were able to pull it off, or if they gave up a group of talented players for nothing.