By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Nets are preparing dilligently for Thursday night's NBA Draft, which will be held, ironically enough, within the once-friendly confines of their former home at Newark's Prudential Center.
But for general manager Billy King, the main task at hand remains signing free-agent-to-be Deron Williams for the franchise's historic inaugural season at Downtown Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
Beginning Sunday morning at 12:01 a.m., the Nets will officially be on the clock to retain Williams' services.
King, addressing the media Wednesday from the Nets' practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., remains steadfast in his belief that the All-Star point guard will be in Brooklyn's Opening Night lineup this November at the nearly complete state-of-the-art arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
"I haven't wavered or changed any feelings," King noted. "I'm not overconfident, I'm not any less confident, I just feel pretty good."
With ESPN.com's Marc Stein reporting this week that a source close to Williams revealed that the coveted 28-year-old playmaker had narrowed his choices to Brooklyn and Dallas, the Nets are hard at work trying to court their biggest asset — in every way imaginable.
Between placing a flatbed truck with a special message reading, "Happy Birthday Deron from your Brooklyn family" outside his Manhattan apartment Tuesday afternoon and Nets coach Avery Johnson dropping in on Williams' birthday party in the city later that evening, Brooklyn's basketball braintrust is showing how deeply committed it is to retaining its top player's services for 2012-13 and beyond.
"At the end of the day he's going to play here or some place else," King added. "I think we've done everything, prepared everything, we've got a great building. So everything is mapped out; he sees what we have, he sees what they have and he's gotta make a decision."
The "they", presumably meaning the Mavericks, have already extended countless open invitations to Williams, who owns a residence in "Big D". During Tuesday night's Rangers-Tigers game at The Ballpark in Arlington, a special birthday message to Williams was flashed on the scoreboard, along with a request to "Be a Maverick".
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has already joked that he'd engage in a "kickboxing throwdown" with Dallas owner Mark Cuban for Williams' services this summer. The two can officially begin exchanging blows when free agency opens on July 1.
King revealed Wednesday that he intends to have Williams' cell number handy at the witching hour.
"Maybe I'll wake him up and call him," he said. "I don't know. I'll probably see him before he leaves here. ... I think he knows us, he knows me, he knows everything about us at this point. I don't think there's a lot of wooing we can do more."
Free agent Jason Kidd, the former Nets point guard who helped Dallas win the NBA ttle in 2010-11, has also stated his desire to either follow Williams to Brooklyn or lure him to Dallas next season.
"[Williams is] the key," revealed Kidd, who guided the Nets to their only NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. "For me, it’s the backup role to give him time to rest, but also coming down the stretch to have the chance to play alongside Deron, I think we can be successful."
Williams, to his credit and the Nets' chagrin, has remained mum on where he'll ultimately play. That's where Thursday's draft may come in handy for the Nets, who lost their first-round pick to Portland via conditions of their February trade deadline deal with the Trail Blazers that brought forward Gerald Wallace, also a free agent, to New Jersey last season.
With only a second-round pick (57th overall), the Nets can hardly bolster an already thin roster with only four players signed for next season. But if King can swing a draft-night deal to either move up for a better pick, or convince Williams that the team is willing to spend big on other free agents this summer, Brooklyn could hold sway over Williams' big decision. Not to mention the additional year and $24.5 million the Nets can throw at Williams that Dallas can't offer via the league's free-agent retainee salary structure.
"We're still trying to figure it out," King said of the team's draft options. "We're looking at the possibility if we want to get another pick or not. We have it pretty much ranked how we want, one through 60. We'll probably tweak it some more. Then you start looking on if there's guys you want to start looking if there's certain guys you want to get in the draft or not, to get higher."
Ryan Blake, the NBA's senior scouting director, discussed the Nets' draft-day needs this week on the team's website (www.brooklynnets.com).
"You need a point guard, and you need a power forward — you've got a player option in
Deron Williiams, Gerald Green's an unresistricted free agent, Gerald Wallace [enacted his] player option and Kris Humphries might be gone," Blake said. "So you don't know the status of those guys and are going to need replacements. So what can you get at 57? You can get a good player and it could be a guy that could be in your rotation or you could pick for someone else; it's just tough when you only have one pick.
"I don't know what Billy King's plans are and what (assistant GM) Bobby Marks' plans are, but I know them and their track records are strong," added Blake. "And they work extremely hard, and they'll work extremely hard for one pick or try to move up."
King, whose job may rely on his ability to bring back Williams, insists that even if the Nets' potential pied-piper skips off to another locale that he has a plan in place to put together a playoff-caliber team for Brooklyn in year one.
“When something happens, you don’t look back,” King said. “You go on to the next play, good or bad.”
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Though the Barlcays Center has yet to officially confirm, it appears almost certain that the KHL (Russia's top professional hockey circuit) will invade Brooklyn in January for a pair of regular-season games.
KHL Vice President Vladimir Sovetsky revealed the league's schedule earlier this week, and Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg are slated to play at the new arena on Jan. 19 and 20.
According to a Yahoo! sports report, Sovetsky also took a shot at Madison Square Garden during his announcement.
"The Barclays Center easily surpasses Madison Square Garden as a hockey venue," he huffed before adding, "there's nothing good about [MSG]. Anyone who's been there understands that arena is no longer suited to modern hockey."
The Barclays Center is already scheduled to host the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils for an exhibition match on Oct. 2, more than a full month before the Nets hit the floor for their inaugural opener.