By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be on the verge of a technical knockout in his "kickboxing throwdown" with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for the services of Deron Williams.
Prokhorov, who boldly declared in April that he'd go toe-to-toe with Cuban in the free-agent battle to keep Williams in Brooklyn, has certainly made the Barclays Center a more attractive home for the All-Star point guard, who is expected to choose between the Nets and Mavericks by July 4, if not sooner.
Nets general manager Billy King reportedly completed a blockbuster trade for Atlanta Hawks All-Star guard Joe Johnson Monday, as well as re-signing forward Gerald Wallace to a four-year $40 million pact over the weekend.
Johnson, who is owed $90 million over the next four seasons, could give the Nets one of the best backcourt tandems in the league, if Williams picks the Nets over the Mavs. As per NBA rules, neither of the Nets' big moves can be announced by the club until July 11, when free agents are officially eligible to be signed. The Johnson deal may also be contigent on whether or not Williams returns.
"There's certainty coming," King promised as the Nets geared up for last Thursday's NBA Draft and the ongoing free-agent frenzy. "That's the thing about it and we're prepared either way. The greatest thing I learned from Coach K [Duke's Mike Krzyzewski] was when something happens, you don't look back, you go to the next play. We're prepared. If things happen, we'll go on to the next play. Good or bad."
Thus far, it's been all good for the Nets, who will become Brooklyn's first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
By inking Wallace and swapping for Johnson, who cost King five players (Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and DeShawn Stevenson and forwards Jordan Williams and Johan Petro) and a lottery-protected draft pick previously acquired from Houston, Brooklyn displayed it was willing to pay big to play in the Williams sweepstakes.
That's not a surprise, considering Prokhorov's wealth and his determination to make the Nets a legitimate NBA title contender during their first season in our fair borough.
“We are in the building stage. I keep my prediction of a championship. We will make the Brooklyn Nets a championship team," Prokhorov insisted during his visit to the nearly complete 18,000-seat state-of-the-art arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. “[Williams] really wants to win and I want to win, maybe even more. At this stage, we’re on the same page. I think he wants to win and be part of a great franchise. So we have the same view of this.”
The Mavericks haven't been shy in their pursuit of Williams as power forward Dirk Nowitzki and free-agent point guard Jason Kidd both openly courted the playmaker extraordinaire. But Prokhorov swung for the fences and appears to have connected by delivering Johnson and Wallace before sitting down with Williams for what many viewed as the decisive meeting Monday night.
Wiliams, who had met with Dallas officials earlier in the day, remains mum on the topic, but did indicate earlier that he would like his situation sorted out before he joins Team USA on July 5 for practices leading up to next month's London Olympics.
Where does Magic center Dwight Howard fit in? The player most assumed would be instrumental in luring Williams back to Brooklyn remains adamant that he would like to be traded to the Nets. But Orlando management, spearheaded by new GM Rob Hennigan, is holding on to its most valuable asset in the hopes of securing the best deal for the future of the franchise.
Howard, who would have been eligible for free agency had he not opted in to an extension prior to the February trade deadline, could wind up in Dallas, Atlanta, Brooklyn or with the Los Angeles Lakers, who are reportedly dangling center Andrew Bynum in trade talks with the Magic.
Even if Howard winds up someplace other than the Barclays Center for Opening Night in November, if he doesn't ink a contract extension with his new employer, he would be eligible for free agency next summer, when the Nets could swoop in and sign him.
With free agency gobbling up the lion's share of NBA headlines, the Nets quietly picked up three players in last Thursday night's draft, the most notable of which was Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor, a Jersey native who like his new team is moving from Newark to Brooklyn.
'We had him on our board pretty high,'' King said. ''We were trying to get a young point guard that we could groom. We liked his pedigree and his ability to play in big games. Once we started to slide, we made the move to get him. We liked his overall play as a point guard and we think his best basketball is ahead of him. We like his decision making and his size. He knows what it takes to be successful."
The Nets also picked up Tornike Shengelia of Tblisi, Georgia and Turkey's Ilken Karaman, though neither is expected to play in Brooklyn next season.