By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Nets made Deron Williams' "tough decision" considerably easier in the 48 hours leading up to his announcement via Twitter on Tuesday evening that he would lead the franchise into the Barclays Center, for its historic inaugural campaign in our fair borough.
By re-signing forward Gerald Wallace, completing a blockbuster trade for Hawks All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and offering Williams the maximum five years and $98 million allowed under the NBA's free-agent retaining rules, Nets general manager Billy King assured that his best player will be the centerpiece of a star-studded starting lineup come Opening Night in November.
Though none of the transactions will become official until July 11, the Nets may already be moving on to the next big thing they hope to bring to Brooklyn: Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
Williams' tweet, "Made a very tough decision today...", accompanied by the Nets' new Brooklyn-emblazoned logo, helped King and the Nets celebrate Independence Day 24 hours earlier than the rest of the nation.
Now, the hunt for Howard, who would likely cost the Nets restricted free-agent center Brook Lopez and possibly power forward Kris Humphries and second-year guard MarShon Brooks as well as several first-round picks, will begin to take shape.
The embattled big man, who has made it known to new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan that he would prefer his exit visa from "The Magic Kingdom", is rumored to be hot for Brooklyn, though the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are still expressing interest. Pairing "Superman", Howard's self-apointed moniker, with Williams, Johnson and Wallace, would put the Nets — at least on paper — in the hunt for an Eastern Conference title.
Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, who turned down the Nets during his infamous free-agent summer of 2010, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could be one-upped by Brooklyn's Fantastic Four, but King and billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov have already built a playoff-caliber team regardless of whether Howard ever shows up on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
"There's certainty coming," King insisted during his pre-draft press conference last week, maintaining the quiet confidence that Williams would stay and the Nets would spend big in free agency to give Brooklyn a marquee attraction for its first pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.
Even if the Nets can't work out a blockbuster swap for Howard, re-signing Lopez, who was limited to only five games due to injury last season, and bringing back Humphries, their most consistent player in 2011-12, they'd still have a better-constructed team than the rival Knicks, who were snubbed by two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash when he facilitated a sign-and-trade deal from Phoenix to the Lakers on Wednesday.
Five straight non-playoff seasons, the inability to land superstars like James, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire over the previous two summers, and the instability created by Williams' free-agent status will now simply serve as prologue for an organization that finally appears to have gotten it right during one swelteringly hot but magical holiday week.
"Before we had to have brochures and video of, 'This is what it's going to be when we're in Brooklyn'," King noted last week. "Now, we can take them there. It's a reality now and I think it's going to be great for the people of Brooklyn and our fan base. It's going to be great for our players to be part of something special."
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Nets are looking at restricted free agent Bucks center Ersan Ilyasova as a possible back-up plan if they can't work out a deal to bring Howard to Brooklyn.
Lopez, who is reportedly seeking a five-year deal of his own from the Nets, would likely be part of any deal for Howard or Ilyasova. Humphries, also expected to be used as trade bait in a potential deal, told HollywoodLife.com last month that he would prefer to be in Brooklyn come November.
“Well I am one of those few guys that played with the Nets when they moved to Newark, and I have really been a part of it the whole way," he said. "It would be nice to play there and it would be nice to be a part of it!”
With all the fanfare surrounding Williams' decision and the Nets' pursuit of Howard, it was easy to miss the team's release of its summer-league roster earlier this week.
Brooklyn began a four-day training session Thursday at the team's practice facility in East Rutherford leading into the July 9–13 AirTran Airways Pro Summer League event, which will be held at the Amway Center in Orlando, perhaps giving the team's braintrust a chance to further explore the Howard situation.
Brooks, coming off a strong rookie campaign, and first-year point guard Tyshawn Taylor, whom the Nets picked up with the 41st overall pick in last week's draft, will be on the 14-man roster. Joining them will be second-round pick Tornike Shengelia, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward from the Republic of Georgia.