The biggest question facing the Nets franchise at the moment is whether Deron Williams will resign with the team this offseason. The Nets acquired D-Will last year at the trade deadline from the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris, an all-star point guard, Derrick Favors, a rookie with sky-high potential, and two first round picks. At the time of the trade, the Nets did not have much excitement, and they brought in Deron to add a superstar as the face of the Brooklyn Nets. With the 2012-13 season in Brooklyn fast approaching, they needed a face to put on the billboards in Brooklyn, other than Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s, and they got that with Deron. He is a dynamic point guard who can score 30 points or get 15 assists on any given night and he is very hard for opponents to defend. He is clearly a top-5 NBA point guard and I don’t think there is any debating that.
The question that Nets fans have for Deron is not what he will do for the rest of the season; we are out of the playoff race at this point and whatever happens does not really matter. We want to know if Deron wants to stick around for Brooklyn, or if he will leave to play in Dallas, Los Angeles, or someplace else. As Dwight Howard proved at the trade deadline, some players have an emotional connection to the city they play in. I can guarantee you, Deron does not have this kind of connection with New Jersey and Nets fans. I know that it pains him to play in front of 12,000 fans every night at the Prudential Center while just across the river the Knicks have the hottest ticket around. In fact, Deron has even said that he hates the Prudential Center. Obviously, if the Nets were still going to be playing in New Jersey next year, Deron would have no interest in the organization. However, they will be playing in Brooklyn, a much bigger market where fans might actually be excited about the team and sell out the arena, which makes things interesting.
The Nets had three possible outcomes at this year’s trade deadline. Their top choice obviously would have been to trade for Dwight Howard, have him resign with the Nets, and have Deron resign too. This did not happen. Another option was trading Deron Williams, which is not something the Nets wanted to do, but maybe should have. I will get into that more later. The last option, which is what they did, was make some minor trades (trading for Gerald Wallace) and keep Deron to try to win now. In my opinion, I think that they should have traded Williams, just because the risk is so high of him not resigning with the Nets, and if he does not they would just lose too much. Deron has said that he is intrigued by the idea of playing in Brooklyn, but he is by no means committed to it. Dallas would have a great situation for him to walk into. They have a fast aging point guard in Jason Kidd, and they still have a hall-of-famer somewhat in his prime in Dirk Nowitzki. A combination of Deron and Dirk could definitely win an NBA championship. Meanwhile in Brooklyn next year, who knows who will be joining Deron on the team if he decides to come back for more Nets basketball. As of now, the Nets really don’t have many pieces that a superstar would want to play with, and unless they can somehow trade for Dwight Howard before free agency hits, if Deron resigns with the Nets he is risking being on a losing team for 5 years. One thing I know about Deron is that he hates losing, which means that the last year has been very frustrating and difficult for him. I could easily see him not wanted to take a risk on this franchise any longer after this year, which means he could be gone for Dallas.
Now lets think for a moment what the Nets would lose if Deron walked out on them. The obvious subtractions are Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, a first round pick which turned into Enes Kanter, and another first round pick. That is a ton of young talent just walking out the door! A team cannot afford to lose all of that and get nothing in return. However, more importantly for the Nets, they would lose the face of the franchise to lead them into Brooklyn. Without Williams or Howard, what do Brooklyn Nets fans have to be excited about? Brook Lopez and Marshon Brooks? These are two young players with a lot of potential, but as of now they are definitely not super stars. The Nets’ goal is to surpass the Knicks in popularity and winning, and losing Deron Williams will set them back at least 2 or 3 years. The first few years of a franchise playing in a new city are the most important ones, because this is when the team establishes a fan base. If the team is very bad in the first few years, it can take many more years before the team can become popular, especially if the Knicks are playing well in Manhattan.
In hindsight, lets say the Nets did trade Deron at the trade deadline. The three biggest rumors discussed involved either Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, or Chris Bosh. All three of these players are very skilled, but there is one big difference between them and D-Will. Deron is a leader; these players all are not the first options on their teams. For Bynum and Gasol, Kobe is obviously the main attraction on the Lakers while they play second fiddle. However, when Gasol was with the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to L.A., he was the best player on that team. If any of these players came to the Nets, they would be expected to be the best player too. Bynum’s biggest concerns are injury related. He has been healthy all of this year so far, but this is the first year I can remember him playing a full season, not that I want to jinx him or anything. The most interesting trade scenario would have been Chris Bosh, and it probably would have been more interesting for the Heat than the Nets (just imagine Lebron, Wade, and D-Will. Wow). But I think Bosh really could have helped out the Nets in the present and the future. He takes a lot of heat (no pun intended) for being soft and the worst of the Miami Big 3. But do you remember him in Toronto? That guy was amazing. In 2007, he single-handedly led the Raptors to the Atlantic Division championship (followed by a loss to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs). I went to plenty of Nets-Raptors games in those days and I was always so impressed with his offensive game. He’s a great mid-range shooter, and he can obviously get to the rim. The trade deadline has passed and we will not be seeing Bynum, Gasol, or Bosh in a Nets uniform any time soon, but it is still interesting to think of what could have been.
Now if Deron Williams chooses to resign with the Nets for 5 years, I will be the first to admit that I was wrong about all of this. The Nets were right to keep Deron and the team is definitely better with him than without him. But, if I were GM of the Nets, I would not have wanted to take a risk that can set my team back 3 years, especially when entering a new city.