In 2011, the Nets acquired All Star Deron Williams to bring the franchise back to contention. Three years later, Brooklyn stands at a crossroads with its inconsistent point guard.
It was the early winter in 2011, and the Nets were anxiously collecting assets to make a significant trade. Still residing in New Jersey, the Nets were focused on moving into Brooklyn with a recognizable, budding NBA All Star to lead the way. For several months, the Nets were in a hot pursuit of Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, an MVP-caliber talent from the borough of Brooklyn. The Nets had several assets, including one-time All Star point guard Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors and a bevy of draft picks, expiring contracts and cap space alike. The Nets were on the verge of acquiring Anthony, but the rival New York Knicks pounced on the prize and completed a trade for Anthony at the eleventh hour. As for the Nets, who were still without an unequivocal franchise player, it seemed to be just the start of another long rebuild, until general manager Billy King swung a surprising deal for Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who would usher the Nets into Brooklyn with championship hope and playoff promise.
Fast forward to today, where the Nets are on the fringe of contention but also on the fringe of another rebuilding process. Williams, who was heralded as the star, has suffered from chronic ankle injuries during the past two seasons and has been unable to perform to an All Star standard. The point guard will undergo surgery on both ankles this summer, with the hopes of putting injuries behind him and returning to All Star form. However, if Williams does not come back fully healthy, the Nets will be in a precarious position.
The main question is this: Can the Nets win a championship in 2015? As they are presently built, I do believe so, but health is the biggest key on this team. Can Williams and Lopez return to their healthy, All Star forms? Will Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston and the other important bench players of the Nets all return to Brooklyn?
The first issue is determining whether Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return. Watching these two future Hall of Famers suit up for Brooklyn was both a joy and a horror. Pierce rejuvenated his career moving to power forward, but was torched by LeBron James in the playoffs, while Garnett had notable, quotable moments but suffered from injuries and the inevitable Father Time. Garnett, who has one year remaining on his contract, may also be contemplating retirement at this stage of his career and life. Meanwhile, Pierce has stated he could play one or two more years in the NBA. If Pierce and Garnett return, I believe the Nets will stock up for one more championship run and try to bring back key pieces like Livingston, Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche.
However, if Pierce and Garnett do not return, I believe the focus should be to trade Williams, and not Brook Lopez, and rebuild for the 2015 and 2016 summers when free agents like Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford and other big names will be available. The reason why I would trade Williams over Lopez is simply due to age, decrease in production and contract length. Williams, 29, could be on the hook for more than $20 million in 2016 when the free agent class is incredibly talented. Also, while Williams' production has been up-and-down due to health issues, Lopez has gradually improved while on the court, has a shorter contract length and, at 26, is beginning to reach his prime. Here are some Deron Williams trades:
1. D-Will Goes Showtime
Nets get: PG Steve Nash, 2014 1st round draft pick
Lakers get: PG Deron Williams
Analysis: There have been recent rumors that the Lakers may be interested in acquiring Williams, after striking out on acquiring Chris Paul and carrying a shell of what used to be an MVP in Steve Nash on its roster. The Nets should do this deal only if Pierce and Garnett are surely not returning, because giving up Williams will probably hinder any short-term championship prospects. From the Lakers point of view, this should be a last-resort deal and I don't believe they'd do it anyway. With more cost-effective targets like Kyle Lowry, Mario Chalmers and Darren Collison set to hit the free agent market, the Lakers would probably be best suited to sign one of those players and target a young, skilled player in the draft to build around Kobe Bryant. If the Nets made this deal, they could target players such as Marcus Smart or Noah Vonleh in the draft. Smart, a point guard, has bigger measurables than Williams and could learn from Nash for a season. Vonleh, a power forward, is known for his massive length and athleticism, and has been compared to the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh.
Nets get: PG Jameer Nelson, PF Jason Maxiell, SF Moe Harkless, 2014 1st-round draft pick (#12 overall)
Magic get: PG Deron Williams
Analysis: I know, you were probably hoping for the #4 pick and Dante Exum, right? Deron Williams possibly could have gotten you that five years ago, but not today, my friends. With this deal, the Nets are probably taking the hypothetical "L," which is probably not what you want to hear. But, here's the silver lining. Both Nelson and Maxiell are expiring contracts, and Nelson's contract is only partially guaranteed. While Mikhail Prokhorov has shown he does not care about taxation, this would save the Nets a lot of money. In Harkless, the Nets get a young wing with solid potential to become a starter, if not a rotational player a la Alan Anderson. With the #12 pick, the Nets could target players like Adreian Payne, Tyler Ennis or Doug McDermott, among others. This year's draft is full of young, talented prospects and could get the Nets an impact player right away.
Rockets get: PG Deron Williams
Analysis: Both Asik and Lin would count for just $8.3 million against the cap, which makes this deal possible, but their contracts are handcuffed with the poison pill provision, which would mean the Nets (or any team who has them on their roster, for that matter) would have to pay $15 million to each of them. As you're well aware, neither Asik or Lin are worth $15 million per season. However, they're both expiring contracts, which may or may not make the trade justifiable. Terrence Jones showed in flashes that he could be a stretch-four in a starting lineup alongside a big man. Jones still has unreached potential, and I believe he would thrive next to Brook Lopez. At the least, Jones would be a solid role player and a sixth man for the Nets, while Asik and Lin would be serviceable in what'd likely be just one season in Brooklyn.
Nets get: PF Paul Millsap
Analysis: Please don't crucify me. Let me explain this one. This is the most Billy King-like panic trade I could think of that I could actually see the general manager doing. From the Nets point of view, Millsap is the quintessential stretch-four that could play both inside and out, and had even played in ultra small-ball lineups for the Hawks when Al Horford went down with an season-ending injury. I watched the Pacers-Hawks series closely in the first round, when Millsap dominated and carried Atlanta to the brink of an historical upset. Millsap, 29, had a 19.8 PER this season and was a staple for the Hawks, and at a bargain too. The catch with Millsap is that he's an expiring contract, but if the Nets believe they can sign him to a 3-year/$33 million extension (or something in that ballpark), they should make this trade. Plumlee is a good, young player, but if the goal is to win in the next three years, I like Millsap more than Plumlee.
Do you believe the Nets should trade Deron Williams? Would you make any of these trades? Sound off in the comments section and thanks for reading!