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Ninja vs. Wall: What Could Have Been or What Is?

I've been working on this for the past week when I've been bored in class so if it seems slightly disconnected then I apologize in advance.  It's extremely long for no apparent reason, so if you don't want to read through the whole thing then just skip down to the part that's entitled "the important part" (specifically the bolded portion).  Remember that this is completely hypothetical, I'm aware that it's not productive to think about this scenario because what's done is done.  I think it's an interesting subject, though.

On a rainy evening last May, many of us watched angrily as another player with the potential to lead the franchise toward success was torn from the Nets' grasp.  Many of the younger fans of the Nets -- including myself -- were (or are) oblivious to the origin of the rivalry with the Knicks; the tale of the Knickerbockers essentially forcing the Nets to trade away their star player because they were "invading" their territory often falls upon deaf ears.  This time it wasn't Julius Erving that was being stripped from a franchise that always seems to draw bad luck, instead it was John Wall in the form of the number one overall draft-pick.

It only seemed fitting that the Nets would be rewarded for their dreadful 12-win season with a player who could potentially turn around the franchise as fast as he sprints in the open-floor.  All the pieces were in place for the young player who oozed with star potential to be the face of the team as the Nets planned for their move to a city that knows a little something about star-power.  Instead, as usual, the Nets weren't graced with any luck; the Wizards were awarded with the first pick and Mikhail Prokhorov stood uncomfortably as Irene Pollin's -- wife of the late Wizards owner Abe Pollin -- jaw nearly hit the floor in astonishment.  Nets fans wish they could say that they were surprised, but they weren't; long ago, they learned that -- similar to the Mets -- luck didn't exist for them.

The Nets were given the third-pick in the 2010 draft in what appeared to be a pool with two top-tier players (Wall and Evan Turner) and a group of players who were either projects or had some off-the-court concerns.  Nets fans had just endured a putrid season in which the Nets were close to breaking the all-time record for losses in a season; after being given the third-pick the only thing that fans could really hang their hat on was Prokhorov's promise to turn this troubled franchise into a perennial championship contender.  The billionaire owner proclaimed, "sometimes luck makes all the difference, but it never comes down to one player."  Many thought it ironic that Prokhorov could make such a statement because he would soon be investing a large portion of energy attempting to bring one player -- LeBron James -- to the Nets in order to follow-through on his promise to capture a championship.  He went on to attempt to convince fans -- and possibly even himself -- that the Nets were still on the right path, "I'm sure we're going to get a great player.  For our team, the only way is up."  

A lot transpired between that night in Secaucus and the draft; the Nets hired Avery Johnson -- a coach with championship-experience both as a player and a coach -- to bring them towards the promise land and signs pointed towards the eventual resignation (or non re-signing) of Rod Thorn as the Nets' President.  The Nets pegged three players as potential selections with their pick, but only one really made sense -- Derrick Favors.  Although the nineteen-year-old Favors was considered to be a project, he had the potential to be a top-tier player at his position, a void that the Nets hadn't filled since Kenyon Martin left the team in 2004 -- Favors would be the Nets' power-forward for the foreseeable future and form a destructive duo next to the very promising Brook Lopez.  As expected, on June 24th the Nets selected Derrick Favors with the third overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

The Nets now had two pieces of their front-court in place and looked to fill the third with arguably the best player in the NBA.  Headed by Mikhail Prohorov and Jay-Z, the Nets set out to recruit LeBron James in an attempt to swing the team from the worst in the NBA to one of the best.  Despite having the most impressive presentation, the Nets were unable to court The King because he already had his mind set on taking his talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and the third-wheel (Chris Bosh).  The Nets had been so distracted by their pursuit of "His Talents" that they may have missed out on some other viable options as Rudy Gay resigned with the Grizzles, Carlos Boozer joined Rose in Chicago and Amare Stoudemire joined the Knicks after inking a brand new uninsured 100-million-dollar contract.  As a parting gift, Thorn signed Travis Outlaw to a very questionable five-year, thirty-five million dollar deal, as well as backup point-guard Jordan Farmar, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and bench player (he doesn't get a title) Johan Petro.  

The Nets' off-season appeared to be a very large disappointment as Rod Thorn headed to the division-rival Sixers. The Nets hired Billy King (the former Sixers GM) to take over Thorn's role, who made his first big move in a four-team-trade which brought the Nets Troy Murphy for Courtney Lee.  Murphy, who was in the last year of his contract, would serve as a starter -- and potential mentorer -- in front of Favors as the Nets looked to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

As the pre-season came to an end rumors started to swirl around the Nets as they looked to obtain a star-player -- Carmelo Anthony.  These rumors continued throughout the the first-half of the season, as the Nets found themselves struggling.  The price-tag for Anthony seemed to be unreasonable as the Nuggets continued to demand more and more despite being in a relatively powerless position.  As the Nets continued to struggle because of a combination of untimely injuries, overwhelming trade rumors and lack of talent, Mikhail Prokhorov decided to put a stop to the "Melo-drama."  

In one of his rare trips to the States, Prokhorov held a surprise press conference announcing that the Nets were pulling out of the Melo-sweepstakes "for good."  Many theorized that the owner's decision to publicly announce his desire to end the pursuit of Anthony was a bargaining maneuver in an attempt to regain power in the negotiations with the Denver Nuggets.  

It seemed curious that he wasn't willing to elaborate on his decision and the conspiracy theories proved to be correct; during the NBA's All-Star weekend -- a mere week before the trade deadline -- rumors surfaced that the Nets had plans to meet with Carmelo in an attempt to convince him to sign an extension with the team.  That meeting did in fact take place, but Melo didn't appear to be convinced -- he still had his sights set on the Knicks.  Three days later, he was promptly traded to the Knicks in a deal that forced New York to give up three starters, two draft picks and a young center.  

It appeared as if the Nets had once again failed in their pursuit of a star player, as the deadline neared Billy King proclaimed that the team would be relatively quiet in terms of making trades.  Not only was the Nets' season a struggle, a team that once looked to have a great future appeared to be headed nowhere.  Then, out of nowhere, the Nets franchise was jump-started by a brilliant, but risky, move made by Billy King.  The Nets had traded their disgruntled point-guard, Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round picks for arguably the best point-guard in the NBA.  King had managed to acquire Deron Williams for less than the Nets had been rumored to be giving up for Carmelo Anthony; somehow the team had acquired a better player for a cheaper price.  

Nets fans quickly transformed from depressed to ecstatic, it was Jason Kidd all over again.  However, with only one guaranteed year remaining on Williams' contract, fans worried if he would choose to resign with a team that had struggled mightily in the recent past.  Williams said all the right things at the press conference as he appeared to be relatively excited for the team's future -- even throwing in a couple indirect jabs about pursuing free-agent to be Dwight Howard -- but the majority of NBA fans were left unconvinced.  

Sure the team was set to play in the one of the NBA's best markets in the world's first billion-dollar arena; sure they had the richest owner in all of sports who looked to expand the team into a "global-brand;" sure Jay-Z -- one of the biggest hip-hop moguls in history -- was on board; sure they had the cap-space to add a max-player (Dwight Howard); sure there were some promising players on the roster, but why would Williams stay?  These are the Nets we're talking about.  Only time would tell, but many believed that once Williams' contract was up he would likely bolt to join a team that was ready to compete for a championship.

** The Important Part **

The Nets ended up with the NBA's best point-guard without having to give up too much, but things could have turned out very differently if they had won the lottery back in May and were able to select John Wall.  They would have been able to package Devin Harris with draft-picks in order to obtain an all-star level wing-scorer (Granger or Iguodala come to mind).  They may have been able to lure one of the impact free-agents for a cheaper price in order to leave room to add other important pieces.  It's more than likely that the Nets wouldn't have ended up signing Travis Outlaw to his putrid contract.  They also wouldn't have given relatively valuable pieces, such as Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts, away for free in an attempt to clear cap-space.  The construction of the team could have been significantly different if the Nets had won the lottery.

So, I pose the question: Knowing everything that we know -- the possibility that Williams could opt out of his deal, the realistic premise that the Nets wouldn't have decided to sign Outlaw to such an egregious contract, the endless trade scenarios that would have been available to Billy King involving some of the team's young and talented players -- if you could go back in time and rig the lottery machine properly (Stern wanted the Nets to get Wall, but his technician didn't effectively engineer the device) in order for the Nets to get the first pick would you do it?  That's assuming that everything would transpire as it has if you chose not to.  

Personally, I would.  Although I think that it is more than likely that Deron Williams will remain with the Nets (possibly more because of the CBA and less because he's able to transform the team into a championship contender), I'm not too confident about the prospect of getting Dwight Howard.  Without Howard, I don't see how the Nets will ever be on a championship-level.  

I believe that the Nets would have been better off if they had gotten Wall; as I stated above there were so many viable trade scenarios that would have bolstered the roster around Wall and Lopez.  The Nets would never have to be held hostage by Outlaw and Petro's combined contracts and the team would be significantly more complete than it is currently.  

Although, Wall has struggled with a few injuries this year he still has the potential to be a top-five point-guard in this league.  He's been overshadowed by Griffin this season, despite posting some very favorable numbers for a rookie point-guard on a very poor Wizards team.  His shooting percentage is pretty low for a player of his caliber, but his assist numbers are extremely impressive.  He definitely has the talent and personality to be a star in the NBA, only time will tell.

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