By John Torenli
Irina Pavlova, the eyes and ears of billionaire Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, couldn't have liked what she saw and heard Wednesday night during the NBA's Draft Lottery in Times Square.
After gushing over the franchise's imminent move to Brooklyn serving as a "true renaissance" for the Nets, Pavlova, the president of Prokhorov's ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, braced for the results of the league's annual drawing along with 13 other representatives from this season's non-playoff teams.
"The sixth pick in the NBA Draft goes to ... the Brooklyn Nets."
Wtih those words, the Nets' conduit between ownership and team management put on a brave face despite knowing that the Nets would surrender their first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers via the terms of their trade-deadline deal to acquire free-agent-to-be Gerald Wallace in February.
Brooklyn would have retained the rights to the pick only if the lottery had placed them in the top three, but those coveted spots went to — in ascending order — the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, and New Orleans Hornets, who will in all likelihood select Kentucky center Anthony Davis first overall at the June 28 NBA Draft.
Beaten but unbowed, Nets general manager Billy King had a strong message for Brooklyn hoops enthusiasts in the wake of the bad news.
"I think fans have got to look at it and have faith that we're going to do our work," insisted King, who will have to be busy in free agency as well as finding a player with the Nets' second-round pick, 57th overall, to fill out a roster that only has four players currently under contract for the much-anticipated inaugural campaign at the Barclays Center. "If there are players we can add in the draft, we're going to do it. But if not, there are free agents out there that we're going to go after, and we have the ability to sign them because we have cap room."
King is hoping to use the bulk of that cap room to re-sign All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who is eligible for free agency on July 1, as well as Wallace. Williams has already indicated that he will test the free-agent waters after June 31, but he also revealed last week that he would like a quick resolution to his status.
The Nets' projected pied piper for their move into the state-of-the-art arena in November also shot down a report from Yahoo! Sports Wednesday that claimed that he would only be in Brooklyn if the organization was able to lure Orlando center Dwight Howard to join him on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
"I would love to know who [Yahoo! reporter] Adrian Wojnarowski's source is because he knows more about what I'm thinking than I do," Williams tweeted in response to the story. "Maybe they can help me decide?"
Williams, who tried to clear the air regarding his pending free agency at the Nets' practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., last week, hasn't exactly made it a secret that he'd love to play alongside Howard. In February, when the Nets were reportedly in the process of orchestrating a deal for the 7-footer, Williams made it clear that our borough's first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957 is in dire need of another headline attraction.
“We need to get some guys in here, there’s no doubt about that,” Williams said.
Decimated by injuries throughout last season, the Nets went 22-44 and finished last in the Atlantic Division, finishing out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Williams didn't take losing well, boiling over in frustration en route to a pair of uncharacteristic ejections in March.
“It’s hard to play like that. It’s hard to play,” Williams conceded following back-to-back losses to fellow lottery teams Cleveland and Washington. “I don’t want to say you can’t get up for games because, of course, you want to win every time you step on the floor. But when you’re trying to make the playoffs, it is motivation to play harder and try to climb the standings. So we’ve got to try to do that even though we know it’s going to be hard to make the playoffs.”
King, who cited the Nets' recent free-agent mini-camp and the possibility of orchestrating a draft-day deal as viable options for rebuilding the roster, knows he's got a busy offseason ahead of him.
"We’re going to build a team," he said. "There are going to be pieces that come into place. We could have signed free agents last year, but we chose not to because we were saving it for someone else. This year we’re going forward and building a team to open Brooklyn with a team that can be — next year at this time — not sitting at the lottery but playing in the playoffs. That’s our goal. That’s our number one focus, number one goal, and now that this is done, I’m able to focus on achieving that."
Howard, who is considered unlikely to remain with the Magic despite signing a deal to play in Orlando through next season, became the latest in a series of high-profile players the Nets were unable to attain over the past several seasons.
LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire each passed up the chance to lead the franchise into Brooklyn. Williams has intimated that he is "very open" to the possibility of returning, albeit with some assurances that the organization shows its commitment to putting a winning product on the court.
"I want to win," he said. "That's first and foremost. I want to go where I feel we have the best chance to win. I know we might not win a championship in the first year or two, but hopefully there's the chance of building something special and having flexibility, somewhere where I believe they're headed in the right direction."
That "somewhere" can still be Brooklyn, according to Williams, who will participate in the London Olympics as part of Team USA this summer.
"It's going to be an exciting arena, a great place to play, and I've always been confident in this organization," he noted. "Even though I was opting out I never said I wasn't re-signing with the Nets and that still remains the same. It would be great to be a part of that first game, that first team there, kind of start our own legacy in Brooklyn, so that's definitely enticing. I'm still looking at all the possibilities here."