By John Torenli
This is exactly what the Nets wanted from Deron Williams.
The franchise’s front man for the upcoming move to Downtown’s Barclays Center has spent the past week sneering at those who suggested Jeremy Lin was the best playmaker in the tri-state area while trying to lure Magic center Dwight Howard to join him next season in Brooklyn.
In other words, he’s making the Nets relevant again by re-igniting a dormant rivalry with the Hudson River rival Knicks and making the team more attractive to potential trade acquisitions or free-agents-to-be, specifically 7-footers from Orlando.
After a brief but successful stopover in Turkey during the NBA lockout (club team Besiktas retired his No. 8 jersey), Williams has done his best to carry the load for the struggling Nets this season, averaging 22.2 points and 8.2 assists per contest.
He’s also plastered on every billboard and advertisement designed to remind fans that our fair borough is only nine short months away from having its own major pro sports franchisefor the first time since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.
Perhaps most importantly, Williams’ electrifying 38-point performance at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, coupled with last night’s 23-point, eight-assist, six-rebound effort against Howard and the Magic, brought some attention to a team that simply appears at times to be playing out the string at Jersey’s Prudential Center.
The Nets fell to 10-25 with Wednesday’s defeat, leaving them dead last in the Atlantic Division standings entering this weekend’s All-Star Game, which will be played on Howard’s home court in Orlando.
Though he’s remained respectful of the NBA’s tampering laws in relation to Howard, there’s no doubting Williams will be in prime position to recruit the league’s most dominant big man further this weekend.
Nets fans didn’t have to wait.
More than 15,000 of them were in full throat during New Jersey’s 108-91 loss to the Magic, openly courting Howard with chants of “We Want Dwight!” throughout the otherwise tedious game.
Howard finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, but more importantly, walked away with his ego soaring through the roof of the Nets’ temporary home.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Howard admitted of the royal treatment he received in Newark. “I wish more people could see how it feels to go into another arena and have the big faces, the posters. It’s a blessing and a whole new experience. It feels good to have a great reception, not only here, but everywhere I go.”
Williams, ever the showman, feigned jealousy over the home fans’ outpouring of affection for a player they covet above all others as the March 15 trade deadline approaches.
“I might not re-sign here because of that,” jabbed Williams, who is also eligible for free agency following the campaign.
While the Nets court Howard, the 26-year-old Atlanta native actually tweaked Williams prior to Monday’s showdown with Lin, urging his potential future ball-distributor to exact some revenge.
Williams had already had enough of “Lin-Sanity” after receiving thousands of tweets and texts regarding the breakout performance the Knicks’ overnight sensation had against him on Feb. 4.
Eager to restore his reputation, Williams lit up Lin and the Knicks in his highest-scoring game of the season, walking out of “The World’s Most Famous Arena” with a 100-92 victory and spoiling the return of Carmelo Anthony to the New York lineup.
“I definitely took offense to that in the first game and definitely, like I said, I had [this game] circled,” Williams admitted afterward.
Remember, it was Anthony, the Brooklyn-born former Syracuse star, whom the Nets sought to acquire fervently prior to last year’s trade deadline, only to watch helplessly as the Knicks orchestrated a daring deal to land the high-scoring forward.
The Nets instead went with their second choice, Williams, grabbing the Illinois alum from Utah in the hopes of using him as the Pied Piper leading the path to Brooklyn.
Now, it is Howard whom the Nets covet as the next big thing to hit Brooklyn, hoping Williams and the hulking pivot-man can provide our borough with a dynamic duo to rival, and perhaps even surpass, the Knicks’ high-profile triumvirate of Anthony, Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Williams, who began the season slowly, has caught fire of late, averaging better than 25 points over his last seven games.
And though the Big Apple is still more wrapped up in Lin-Mania and the Knicks as the season progresses, Williams and the Nets are determined to show up Downtown with more than just a giant chip on their shoulders.
“We need to get some guys in here, there’s no doubt about that,” Williams said.
The emergence of rookie MarShon Brooks, the continued strong play of power forward Kris Humphries and the patient, guiding hand of coach Avery Johnson are certainly three key ingredients to the Nets’ future success in Brooklyn.
Now, the Nets must focus on the re-signing of Williams, and perhaps more importantly, whom they will have to surround him with to keep him in Brooklyn.
To his credit, the 6-foot-3 Williams is doing his share to make the Nets an attractive suitor.
That’s what the Nets wanted and that’s what they’re getting. The rest is up to them.