UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Williams adds fuel to fire as Nets' cross-river rivalry rages on

WOW!!! Just heard about Deron Williams goin to New Jersey!!! When they head to their new arena in 2yrs players will love to play in Brooklyn-- Suns forward Jared Dudley, via Twitter

"That's bigger than the arena, that's bigger than Brooklyn. That's bigger than all of that."-- former Nets forward Richard Jefferson

***

This is what Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wanted. Not a slew of draft picks who would take years to develop, if they do at all. Not a slow rebuilding process that would require his marketing staff to beg and plead fans to stick with them through 20-, 25- and 30-win seasons. No, Prokhorov wanted a franchise player, someone to carry the team's flag to Brooklyn when the Barclays Center opens in 2012 and to serve as a recruiting tool for future free agents.

Hello, Deron Williams.

Williams wasn't on New Jersey's radar last week. Heck, he wasn't on anyone's radar last week. For the past month the Jazz had been taking other teams' temperatures about Williams to get a feel for what kind of deal might be out there. They were exploratory calls only, as no one truly believed Utah would pull the trigger.

But it did. Maybe it was the fear of losing Williams in 2012, when he can become a free agent. Maybe it was that the Jazz saw New Jersey's offer for Carmelo Anthony and thought, "Hey, maybe we can get that, too." Or maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever. At some point early this week, the Nets and Jazz got together and a deal was quickly struck.

And what did the Nets get? Simply put, in Williams the Nets got a franchise player. Williams, many would argue, is the best point guard in the league. He blends size (6-foot-3) with speed, skill and playmaking ability. And he can shoot (career 35.8 percent from three-point range) and defend, too. Playing the most important position in basketball, Williams not only has the ability to rack up numbers himself, but he also can help others do the same.

"Deron is going to give you 20 points and get his teammates more than that," a Western Conference scout said. "Plus, he defends and is a big guard. Carmelo will get you 30 points, but he won't do anything else. Plus, the ball will stop on offense and make the game stagnant."

Ah, Carmelo. Williams and Anthony didn't have much in common before this week. Now, they will be inextricably linked. Anthony is locked into the Knicks through 2014 as the co-face (along with Amar'e Stoudemire) of the franchise. Williams can opt out of his contract in 2012, which will give the Nets that long to persuade him to stick around and be the face of theirs.

Can they? In the immediate aftermath of the trade, reports surfaced that Williams wasn't at all happy with the deal. Jokes were made that recently departed Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, in an act of vengeance, asked the front office to deal Williams to New Jersey. But even if Williams was irritated by the trade, that opinion can change if the Nets convince him they have a plan to win.

Because the Nets can win. Not now, of course. For now, the Nets are a deeply flawed team that even Williams' superior talents can't fix. But with Williams and 22-year-old center Brook Lopez, New Jersey has the two most important positions in the game covered. It has three first-round picks over the next two years and whole lot of cap space set to open up.

The decisions the Nets make -- both in the draft and in free agency -- will be critical. Every move must be reviewed and then reviewed again as one bad signing or one busted draft pick could be enough to nudge Williams out the door. Because even if Williams wants to play in a big market, there are plenty out there just as appealing as Brooklyn.

Markets like, say, New York, where the Knicks will be looking for a new point guard right around 2012, when Chauncey Billups' contract expires. If it hurts the Nets to lose Williams to free agency, it would kill them to lose him to the Knicks. New Jersey, if you hadn't noticed, has committed to an all-out assault on its cross-river neighbors. It posted billboards across from Madison Square Garden and smirked when it had the opportunity to drive up the price for Anthony. And even when Anthony was ready to take center stage, the Nets simply would not allow the moment to pass without taking another shot. An hour before Anthony's introductory news conference, the team released a new photo showing the continued construction of the $900 million Barclays Center, "on pace for a late spring/early summer opening!"

The border war rages on.

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.