By John Torenli
With All-Star point guard Deron Williams' pending free agency looming over Brooklyn like an ominous black cloud hovering atop the nearly complete Barclays Center, it's easy to forget that he isn't the only player the Nets are anxious to secure the services of this summer.
By remaining mum on the issue of his $9.5 million, one-year option for the Nets' inaugural 2012-13 campaign in the sparkling new Downtown arena, forward Gerald Wallace officially became a free agent Wednesday, putting him just behind Williams on the organization's players-to-re-sign list.
Wallace, whom the Nets acquired in a trade-deadline deal from Portland in February, averaged 15.2 points and 6.8 rebounds over 16 games for New Jersey this past season. General manager Billy King and the rest of the Nets' braintrust certainly weren't caught off-guard by the 6-foot-7, 220-pound veteran's decision.
In fact, King knows that Wallace is seeking some security in what very well may be his last big shot at a lucrative contract.
"I told him in his (exit) meeting that he deserves a multi-year deal," King said of Wallace last month. "When we can we will. I mean obviously he's a big part of it, and his reality being 30 years old, this is probably one of his last chances to get a nice contract."
King expressed those sentiments before the Nets lost their first-round draft pick (sixth overall) to the Trail Blazers during the NBA Draft Lottery via the conditions of their deal, which many viewed as a tenuous move at best following their inability to complete a trade for Orlando's Dwight Howard.
The Magic center, who re-upped in Orlando but still appears to be in play for a major trade as this month's draft approaches, is rumored to be the key to re-signing Williams, whose free agency becomes official on July 1.
If the Nets are unable to retain Wallace's services, last season's swap with Portland will be an unmitigated disaster. But even if Wallace re-signs, which will likely take up to $30 million over three years, he won't generate the type of buzz the return of Williams — coupled with the potential acquistion of Howard — would for an organization looking to make a major splash in its first season in our fair borough.
Williams, who is preparing to represent Team USA at the Olympics in London later this summer, has cited his annoyance at the ongoing rumors regarding his free agency, deftly deflecting reports that getting Howard is the key to his staying in Brooklyn. Inking Wallace to a multi-year pact certainly won't be the determining factor in getting Williams to stay put, but it certainly won't hurt the cause.
"Obviously, Deron and Gerald Wallace are key pieces that we would like back in the fold,'' King said in his season wrap-up session with the media in May. "[Along with restricted free agent] Brook Lopez. They are major big time free agents and you add [free agent Kris] Humphries in there as a starting (power forward) ... Those four, I think, are core pieces that you’ve got to look to build with going forward."
The Nets can officially kick off negotiations with Williams and Wallace on July 1, and may sign them beginning July 11.
Until then, however, the clouds will continue to hover over a franchise in dire need of star power for its November opening on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.