Nets still have time to get Dwight, please Deron

    Friday, December 16, 2011, 6:35 PM [General]

    The Nets made Williams happy and will be able to keep him beyond this season. We’re talking about Shawne Williams, not Deron.

    Shawne was given a two-year deal by the Nets, which was a good signing. He can play both forward spots and no matter if Brook Lopez is in the middle or Dwight Howard, Shawne Williams is going to get plenty of open looks in the corner. Deron Williams will make Shawne Williams a better player.

    Deron Williams will make all of the Williamses on the Nets better. There are four now, but with all due respect to Shawne, Jordan and Sheldon, only one really matters.

    The preseason opens Saturday against the Knicks, the regular season next week, and nothing has changed for the Nets. The roster looks a little different, but they still haven’t assembled one that will make Deron Williams re-sign with them in the summer.

    The Nets have several things going for them though: time, Williams, Howard hasn’t been traded yet and they’ve maintained their cap flexibility for next summer.

    Realistically, they have until July to make Williams happy.

    Don’t believe the reports that the Magic are through discussing any trades involving Howard. Maybe they are right now, but Howard will be moved before the trade deadline. The Magic can’t let their franchise player leave without getting something in return to get the organization back on track.

    This sounds a little like the Carmelo Anthony saga last season, where the talks were on, then off. Mikhail Prokhorov said the Nets were out, but then they were back in it. The Magic are going to do what’s best for them just as Denver did last year and as the Nets tried to in the Anthony situation.

    There is one difference here though: The Nets are in a position of strength.

    We’re not saying they absolutely will end up with Howard, because the Lakers could put together a package that includes Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. But unlike last year, when Anthony didn’t want to play for the Nets, all reports say that Howard wants to team up with Deron Williams and play for the franchise that will call Brooklyn home beginning next year.

    But it will be up to Orlando to make a deal that makes the most sense for them, gets them the young players, picks or veterans who can help them stay competitive. The Magic are not going to get equal value for Howard, but they have to get something, so Nets general manager Billy King will be in pursuit all season.

    And one thing you learned about King last year during the 'Melo chase is he will reach out to everybody to try and find the players, contracts or picks the other team wants.

    All of that said, as of this writing, the Nets could – could - open the regular season without making a major acquisition. There still is time, though.

    They didn’t get Tyson Chandler, Nene, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier and some of the other names on their free-agent wish list. But Andrei Kirilenko and Kris Humphries are out there still, and the Nets continue to talk to their representatives.

    The bottom line, though, is the biggest name available – and he is available – is Howard, and the Nets are going to be prudent while that big fish is out there.

    The Nets didn't want to handcuff themselves and give Nene a max deal. He ultimately signed for five years and $67 million with Denver. The Nets were interested, but my hunch is their reported offer of four years, $64 million wasn’t entirely accurate.

    In any event, they waived Travis Outlaw through amnesty, signed Shawne and Sheldon Williams and Ime Udoka and have a rookie shooting guard they think can be good in MarShon Brooks.

    “I don’t look at the roster and say, ‘Well, geez, they can’t win with that team,’” King said. “We’re going to add some more pieces. It may not be before opening day; it may be done via trade later, but we’ll continue to build.”

    The Nets still have a healthy Brook Lopez – remember last offseason he had bout with mono and didn’t get to work out as much. The Nets probably will showcase him because they have to, but also to get his scoring numbers up to increase his trade value.

    The biggest thing the Nets have is the most important Williams on the roster. Deron is here from the start of camp, and he is the reason Howard is considering the Nets.

    They’re a better team than they were when the season started last year. If the Nets can get Howard, they could become the best team the franchise has had in their NBA history.

    They still have time.

    ***

    Joined Chris Shearn and Joe Auriemma for the Off the Wall Podcast where we talked Nets, Knicks and general NBA. Click here for a listen

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone

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    Al Iannazzone covers the NBA for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    As camp starts, Nets are center of attention again

    Saturday, December 10, 2011, 12:32 AM [General]

    So much for the circus-atmosphere general manager Billy King said the Nets would avoid this year. Can’t wait to see what happens when they open their first training as the Brooklyn Nets.

    Their last camp as the New Jersey Nets began with reports that Dwight Howard would ask for a trade from Orlando and could be Newark-bound by Friday afternoon. Then reports said the Magic were considering filing tampering charges because members of the Nets organization, including owner Mikhail Prokhorov, had met with Howard.

    King denied that was so. And the Nets were not close to acquiring Howard on Friday. But for the second straight year – which happens to be the second year of the Prokhorov-King-Avery Johnson era - the Nets were embroiled in drama before the basketballs hit the court for the first time.

    On Media Day last year, a four-team deal involving Devin Harris and Derrick Favors that would have brought Carmelo Anthony to the Nets was supposed to be this-close to happening. It didn’t, but it set the tone for a season filled with drama and distractions.

    So here we are again and here are the Nets in the middle of another firestorm, whether it was of their own doing or not. In this case we tend to believe some reports weren't entirely accurate.

    “We’re just focused on basketball,” Johnson said after the first practice. “We’re focused on the things we can control on the court. Hopefully, whatever is being talked about it will get resolved at some point.”

    Whatever has to be resolved from a basketball standpoint makes all the sense in the world and really isn’t anything new at this point.

    The Nets want Howard and they’re going hard after Nene in free agency. It’s been written here and other places that Howard was their top target through trade and Nene their top one in free agency. It also was written here that the Nets probably would have to quote-unquote overpay for Nene or another free agent.

    It may not be what their fans want them to do, but the Nets have to do something to appease Deron Williams. That’s what everything is about for the Nets – getting players that make them a winner and gets Williams to sign a five-year extension next summer.

    So the latest reports had the Nets presenting Nene with a four-year offer for between $60 million and $65 million. That’s great dough for someone who has never made an All-Star team.

    But Nene is coming off a strong year for Denver, where he averaged 17.1 points and 9.4 rebounds. After Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and Tayhaun Prince – all free-agent targets on New Jersey's list – chose New York, the Clippers and Pistons, respectively, you knew the Nets would dig deeper into Prokhorov pockets to try to prevent striking out in free agency.

    Paying Nene big wouldn't be a panic move like giving Travis Outlaw a five-year, $35 million contract after whiffing on all the marquee free agents starting with LeBron James. Nene is a good player who can help the Nets and they should do everything they can to get him.

    The same for Howard and it could mean Brook Lopez’s days as a Net are numbered. If the Nets can get Howard you trade everyone on the roster not named Williams.

    Lopez’s name has been prominently mentioned in the trade rumors. After three years in the NBA and with the Nets, this should not have that much of an effect on Lopez. He’s been through plenty in a short time.

    Two years ago, he was the starting center on a team that started 0-18, fired coach Lawrence Frank, put GM Kiki Vandeweghe on the bench, brought in Del Harris as an assistant who had his eyes on the head job and left abruptly after he didn’t get it.

    Then last year, the Nets were involved in trade talks for Anthony from September until February, finally made the trade for Williams and also pulled off two other deals. It should just be another season for Lopez.

    “I just ignore it,” Lopez said. “I don’t read any of that stuff online or any stuff like that. I’m here to play basketball for this team as long as I’m here and that’s my job.”

    This is just the start of what should be another wild season for the Nets. Can’t wait to see what happens when they open their first camp as the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe by then, the basketballs will hit the court before something else hits the fan.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the NBA for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

     

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    Almost closing time for Avery Johnson and the Nets

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011, 8:08 PM [General]

    Avery Johnson joked that when the time comes for the Nets to get something done with free agents, he’s like Mariano Rivera.
     
    “They bring me in to close,” Johnson said today.
     
    Johnson can give the final sales pitch – he ultimately decides how much a player plays. But the two biggest things for the Nets in their pursuit of any free agent are Mikhail Prokhorov’s fortune and Deron Williams’ future.
     
    Williams declared his intentions yesterday, saying, “I plan to stay.” That should help the Nets lure some players. But the almighty millions could be the deciding factor.
     
    The truth is the Nets are going to have to spend more than they probably would like in order to get Nene or Tyson Chandler or Caron Butler or even to bring Kris Humphries back.
     
    In most cases, the players are not going to take less to go to Newark this year and Brooklyn in the fall. The Nets aren't Miami, the Lakers or the Celtics.
     
    The Nets are a team that won 24 games last year, one season after winning 12. The Brooklyn move, Prokhorov and Williams give the Nets a different feel, but they’re still not one of the elite teams or franchises just yet.
     
    “We’re not in the situation where we’ve been a playoff team here recently, or a championship team, but we have a lot of positives in our situation,” Johnson said as he met with reporters for the first time since the lockout was settled and announced the expected hirings of P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie as assistants.

    “It’s a matter of trying to convince, from a statistical standpoint, from just communicating with guys, that this is a great situation to be a part of. But most of the free agents, guys that we’re after, we’re not their only option.”
      
    Johnson said all the right things. He’s perfect for the Nets. He loves to talk – is a fantastic talker – carries himself well and is a fierce competitor. That’s what the Nets need.
     
    It has been a very good week for them overall. Last week, Nets general manager Billy King spoke to the media and addressed trade rumors about Dwight Howard and the importance of keeping everything in-house so the players are unaffected.
     
    The next day, Williams’ agent, Jeff Schwartz, and the All-Star point guard said he won’t sign an extension with the Nets now, but added that it doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with them later. He can get more money – about $40 million more – this way.
     
    Then, yesterday, Williams declared he wants to remain a Net, that he would say there’s a “90 percent” chance he signs with them after the season. He left a little wiggle room in case the Nets don’t make the moves that will keep him. By now, everyone knows getting Dwight Howard would be a guarantee.

    “We definitely need to add some guys to our roster,” Johnson said. “We have glaring weaknesses in certain areas. But Deron definitely has some ideas. Billy and I are confident. I’m confident in Billy, but it takes two to Tango.”
     
    By the way, most of the stuff Williams said on WFAN and what he told beat reporters yesterday is what he has told the Nets behind closed doors. They know the players Williams wants to play with – now, and when the Barclays Center opens next year.
     
    Now it’s about executing the plan and making some major moves and changes before the start of camp on Friday. They may not be able to get Howard by then, but the Nets have to start putting together a playoff-contending team and acquiring the assets that may enable them to get Howard later, which would assure them Williams isn’t going anywhere.
     
    “We’re just excited that he’s happy to be here,” Johnson said. “There’s a strong possibility that we’re going to have him, not only this year, but in years to come. Nothing is guaranteed. June 30 is a long time away.
     
    “We’re a much better team starting this training camp, without having signed or having done anything up to this point, than where we were at the start of last year.”

    The Nets are better. They’re still not as good as they want to be and need to be, but they’re working on it.
     
    ***
     
    The NBA schedules were released today and in a word, the Nets' is brutal.

    Most team schedules are because of the condensed season, but the Nets open with 10 of their first 14 games on the road. They also play six games in eight nights to start the season – three sets of back-to-backs with four of those games on the road.
     
    Here’s a little more of the schedule breakdown:
     
    * The Nets’ home opener is Dec. 27 against Atlanta. 
     
    * The Nets only play three games each against the two teams closest to them in proximity: the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks play at The Rock just once (April 18).

    * Deron Williams makes his Utah return on Jan. 14.
     
    * LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat visit Prudential Center twice (Jan. 7 and April 16).

    * Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and the world champion Mavs, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, don’t play at the Prudential Center.
     
    The Nets have two sets of three games in three nights (Jan. 21-23 vs. OKC, vs. CLE and at Chicago, and Feb. 18-20 at Chicago, home for Milwaukee and at the Knicks).
     
    Their nine road games against the West are at Denver, Phoenix, Utah and the Clippers (Jan. 11-16), at Dallas (Feb. 28) and at Golden State, Sacramento, the Lakers and Portland (March 30-April 4).
     
    The Nets end the season with seven of their final 10 games at home. 
     
    ***
     
    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
     
    ***
     
    Al Iannazzone covers the NBA for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

     

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    Deron wants to stay, and wants Dwight

    Monday, December 5, 2011, 6:27 PM [General]

    Deron Williams is doing everything he can to put the Nets and their general manager Billy King at ease. But Williams also is letting King know he’s on the clock.

    Williams met with beat reporters at a SoHo restaurant not long after he went on WFAN and declared, “My plan is to stay.” Williams said similar things to the writers after lunch.

    His plan is to opt out after the season, but stay with the organization. He said he had a “strong feeling” that he would re-sign with the Nets next summer. But King has roughly eight months to turn a team that won 24 games last season into a championship contender.

    The best way to leap tall buildings in a single bound is by acquiring Superman.

    It’s not Dwight Howard or bust, but if King can make a deal with Orlando for the All-Star center the Nets can be assured that Williams will put his signature on a new, five-year, $101 million deal in July. Chances are, Williams said, Howard would, too.

    This part could hardly be considered new or news to anyone, least of all King.

    The Nets general manager knew he had to make a major move when he replaced Rod Thorn as president in July 2010 and that’s all King tried to do. He failed in getting Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, but may probably get the best player of the bunch when King unexpectedly made the deal for Williams.

    Now King, who is as competitive as anyone in the organization, will do whatever is necessary to entice Orlando to make a deal with the Nets involving Howard.

    The Nets offer likely would start with Brook Lopez and two first-round picks and they almost certainly would have to take back Hedo Turkoglu and the three years and $35 million he has remaining on his contract.

    It’s also possible the Nets will add more assets through free agency who also could be used at some point to sweeten a deal. They are targeting Nene, Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and numerous other players to fill the spots at power forward/center, small forward and the bench.

    The bottom line is this: Williams wants to play with Howard. He said he definitely would re-sign with the Nets if they got Howard. The Nets want to keep Williams and would love to get Howard.

    Sounds like all the Nets need is for Orlando to agree to something eventually. No big deal, right?

    King said he would keep all talks quiet because he doesn’t want the “circus-like atmosphere” that enveloped the Nets last year because of the ‘Melo Drama. It’s a safe bet that if King hasn’t spoken to Orlando GM Otis Smith yet he will in the near future.

    This is one of the many reasons Williams is happy from what he’s seen and heard from the Nets since being traded to them in February. They have made everything about him and will do anything to keep him happy. Williams “can pick his teammates,” a source said recently.

    “It definitely feels good to have that support,” Williams said. “I have a lot of input. They ask me about guys, about who I like to play with - so that’s great, any time management will come and ask you that type of stuff.”

    Williams is the face of the franchise, the person they are promoting as they plan their move to Brooklyn. But he’s also someone who’s willing to share the spotlight, like all great point guards, and that’s what he wants to do.

    Although Williams praised Lopez, Anthony Morrow and other players on the team, he knows he needs more in order to win.

    “We have to get some big pieces that can build a championship,” he said.

    The Nets are going to go after one of the biggest ones. Williams said it clearly. If Superman lands in this area, Williams will stay for sure. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the Nets will work hard to get Howard or the pieces that will keep Williams around.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

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    Al Iannazzone covers the NBA for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)


     

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    Pressing matters facing the Nets

    Friday, December 2, 2011, 1:46 PM [General]


    After such a long lockout-generated layoff, it’s busy season in the NBA and the Nets should be among the busiest teams.

    They have the money – up to about $24 million for free agency – the star point guard and some assets to at least be in the conversation to acquire Dwight Howard.

    Negotiations for players and free agents should heat up over the weekend and early next week, building to the expected opening of camps Dec. 9. Here are some pressing issues concerning the Nets and their roster and one major issue that seems to be put to rest – for now.
     
     
    D-Will Won’t
    Deron Williams’ agent Jeff Schwartz said yesterday what many people were already thinking, including Nets execs: his client won’t sign an extension with the Nets and will become a free agent next summer. But hours later, Williams tweeted to say it doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with the Nets.

    This was a smart move – as was outlined here – to just get it out of the way so it doesn’t hang over the heads of Williams and the Nets all season. The new CBA made it almost a guarantee Williams would go this route. He makes much more money by opting out. It doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign. And by doing it now, the focus can be about basketball. 

    The Nets will try to build around Williams to improve their chances of him signing a 5-year, $101 million contract in the summer.
     
    Build a front court
    That’s what this off-season is all about for the Nets and they have several ways they’d like to go and many more ways it can go.

    The ultimate goal for general manager Billy King would be to put together a trade for Howard. He would give the Nets the best chances to be competitive and keep Williams.

    But if they can’t get Howard now, the Nets still have to want a big man. They’ve gone hardest after Nene. Tyson Chandler also is in the picture. If the Nets can get one of them they’ll move Brook Lopez to power forward.

    But whoever the Nets get could become an asset they try to use to acquire Howard. Agents have to be considering that too because they may not want to send their player to the Nets with the possibility they could be traded by February.

    You also have to look at who fits best.

    Nene and Chandler would complement Lopez, who is more of a jump shooter and pick-and-pop player. But if getting Howard is the end goal, Lopez – the Nets’ main trade chip today – might be the best fit to play alongside Superman.

    Nene and Howard could co-exist, but Chandler and Howard are a little more similar. Neither is a power forward. That may not work that well.

    The Nets have their plan for this and Plans C-Z. And everyone wants to know where Kris Humphries fits in.

    Humphries remains in the picture. But the Nets want to make other moves first. They need to address both power forward and small forward and depending on how things shake out, they might not have the time or money to bring Humphries back. He’s one of the top two power forwards (along with David West) and will be in demand.

    Other players the Nets have an interest in is restricted free agent Thaddeus Young, an athletic hybrid forward who would fit well with Williams, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Andrei Kirilenko and Grant Hill

    Hill is an interesting name and he has a natural link because like King, he’s a Duke alum. But at this stage of his career, Hill may want to stay where he is and play Steve Nash or go to a winner.

    Improve the bench
    Presuming the Nets get a starting big man and small forward and ultimately amnesty Travis Outlaw, you are looking at a bench consisting of Jordan Farmar, MarShon Brooks, Damion James, Johan Petro, Sundiata Gaines and Jordan Williams. The Nets need more scoring, experience and versatility.

    One player the Nets have interest in is Shawne Williams, a good fit who could stretch the floor off the bench. The Nets likely would give him more than the one-year deal the Knicks have discussed. But the Heat and Bulls also have shown interest.

    Some other players on their list that could help them include Arron Afflalo, Rasual Butler, Bostjan Nachbar, Luc Mbah a Moute, Chris Wilcox and Josh McRoberts.
     
    Talk to Lopez
    King did the right thing when he said he wouldn’t allow “the circus-like atmosphere” that surrounded the Nets last year to happen again.

    So one of the first things he and coach Avery Johnson have to do next week is sit down Lopez and reassure him that he is in their plans; that they are going to start talking extension with his agent. That part is true. That Lopez is in their plans probably isn’t entirely.

    They like him, but if they can move Lopez to get Howard the Nets would do it in a heartbeat. But they have to try to keep things quiet and avoid the distractions. The Carmelo Anthony drama definitely affected the team. They’re good to need Lopez focused and committed. As of now, he’s their No. 2 player.
     
    *** 
     
     
    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
     
    ***
     
    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
     

     


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