The rebranded Brooklyn Nets, led by an All-Star backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, began this season with championship aspirations. Just a few months into their first season in New York City, the team's attempts to acquire a star player before the trade deadline stinks of desperation.
The Nets' grand plan heading into the summer of 2012 was to re-sign Williams and acquire center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. Williams signed on the dotted line, re-upping with Brooklyn for $98 million over five years, but the Nets were unable to swing a deal for Howard, who ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Brooklyn's general manager Billy King was forced to turn to Plan B, which included trading for Johnson and his exorbitant contract and re-signing starters Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries for a combined $124 million.
In September, King told Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com that he believes the Nets can win it all. "Can we win a championship? Yeah. But it takes luck in an NBA season to do that. You've gotta be healthy, get some breaks and the ball has to bounce your way sometimes."
The season has taken some unexpected turns for the Nets. Williams got off to a horrendous start and publicly criticized the team's offense (via nytimes.com.) When the Nets fell to .500, coach Avery Johnson was fired on December 27.
Brooklyn responded to Johnson's departure and has gone 15-6 under interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo. They have pulled to within one game of the first-place New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division. Still, there are reasons for management to be concerned about the team's franchise player, Williams, and consequently the direction of the team.
Williams' point and assist totals are down significantly, as seen below, courtesy of basketball-reference.com. The point guard's decline can be attributed in part to inflammation in his ankles, which according to SI.com, is causing him so much pain, that he can barely jump.
However, Williams has also developed a reputation as a diva. He is widely blamed for running legendary coach Jerry Sloan out of Utah, and there is not doubt that his criticism of Johnson's offense played a part in the coach's dismissal from the Nets.
Williams is also overweight, raising questions about his dedication to leading a winning team. Jerry Colangelo raised some eyebrows when he told the Daily News last week that, “Deron Williams, for the Olympics, was not in the best shape.” Colangelo added, “He was a little overweight, and I told him that at the time.”
Given concerns about their star player and second-place standing, Brooklyn is searching for help outside the franchise.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has been reporting for over a week that the Nets are focused on acquiring Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, executives around the league are convinced that the Hawks will trade Smith before the deadline. Wojnarowski tweeted on Wednesday,
Chris Broussard of ESPN.com reported that the Nets are trying to put together an offer for Smith centered around power forward Kris Humphries and second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks.
Wojnarowski wrote on yahoo.com that the Nets have also talked to the Boston Celtics about trading for Paul Pierce. The Nets reportedly offered Humphries, Brooks and a first-round draft pick, though the Celtics want more for the franchise's second all-time leading scorer.
Then there are the Dwight Howard rumors, which will not die. The Los Angeles Lakers have been a disaster this season, and according to the New York Daily News, Howard had to be restrained from physically attacking teammate Kobe Byrant.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reiterated on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" on ESPN Radio on Wednesday that Howard would not be traded.
"We're not trading Dwight Howard. ... He will not be traded, and there's nothing that anybody can do today to call me today and ask me, 'Would you do this?' and get a positive result."
Howard has been noncommittal about whether he will re-sign with the Lakers this summer, and ESPN's Stephen A. Smith told Ryan Ruocco on ESPN Radio that the Lakers' center still believes he will wind up in Brooklyn. Though a trade to the Nets is unlikely, it is not impossible, and management will continue to explore the possibility until Howard signs a new deal elsewhere.
Based on Kupchak's comments, it does not appear that the Nets will be able to acquire Howard before the deadline. Smith's athleticism would certainly provide a boost to the Nets' front line and Pierce would give them a dangerous threat on the perimeter.
The question is: Why would the Nets mess with the chemistry of a team that has won 15 of its last 21 games and has crept within one game of first place?
This is Johnson's first season with the Nets. Wallace has played just 61 games with the team, and Brook Lopez is still figuring out how to play with this nucleus after missing all but five games last season. Management needs to give this talented squad some time to gel.
But this is not the team that King wanted and management is not willing to sit idle as long as Brooklyn trails its crosstown rival in the standings. All of the chatter about the Nets leading up to Thursday's trade deadline proves that they are desperate to make changes.