Saturday is the first anniversary of one of the worst days in recent Nets history (and there were a lot of them): the day that Dwight Howard decided to stay in Orlando for the remainder of the season instead of agreeing to a trade to the Nets, which most pundits --and the Nets front office-- was only hours away.
Not long after that, the Nets traded Mehmet Okur, a huge expiring contract; Shawne Williams, with $3.15 million left on his contract and three screws in his left foot; and a top three protected first round pick in the 2012 Draft, which famously became Damian Lillard, odds-on favorite for rookie of the year. In return, they got Gerald Wallace, with a player option in July, and two trade exceptions, one of which was used in a summer deal for Reggie Evans. Controversial. No doubt. Desperate? It's open for debate (one that will never end).
If they had moved up in the lottery and avoided giving Portland the No. 6 pick, the Nets would have liked to take Thomas Robinson of Kansas, but he was gone at No. 5 to the Kings. So what would they have done if indeed they had the No. 6 pick in June? Marc Stein reports (and NetsDaily can partly confirm) that the choice would likely have been Tyler Zeller of North Carolina, who they saw as Brook Lopez insurance. Zeller ultimately went to Cleveland at No. 17. League sources, however, say the Nets also liked Zeller's teammate, John Henson, taken by Milwaukee at No. 14. They did not like UNC's Harrison Barnes, taken at No. 7.
Here's what Stein writes Saturday...laying out what he knows and essentially defending the Nets front office.
It's true that the pick Brooklyn surrendered in last season's Gerald Wallace trade became Damian Lillard, but it's a misnomer to flatly conclude that the Nets would have wound up with the overwhelming Rookie of the Year favorite instead of Portland had they simply kept the pick. It's believed that the Nets, if they hadn't dealt their lottery pick for Wallace, likely would have drafted Cavs big man Tyler Zeller at No. 6, since point guard -- with Deron Williams presumed to be re-signing -- wasn't a position of prime need.
Would the Nets taken a point guard? Maybe, says a league insider. They "don't base the draft on need but best available talent." And he was "in the mix."
Whatever. The Nets are not unhappy they got Wallace ... at all. They still think he is going to be a big part of whatever success they will have this year and still state unequivocally that it was not a desperation move to get him. They note among other things that they were at that point only four games out of the playoffs, with a favorable schedule and at least some hope that Lopez would return.
Two footnotes on anniversary: the two small TE's still left over from the Wallace trade, $1.3 million and $1.38 million, expire Saturday. And if the Nets had won in the lottery last May, the Blazers would have had the Nets' pick, top two protected, in this year's draft.