By Sam Amick
July 03, 2012

When Deron Williams announced his decision to return to the Nets on Tuesday, the collective sigh of relief you heard didn't just come from Brooklyn fans.

His fellow free agent point guards were relieved, too.

Because the 28-year-old Williams is regarded as the best of that bunch, the futures of players like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Jeremy Lin and Goran Dragic were essentially on hold while everyone waited to see whether the All-Star would stay in Brooklyn or sign with his hometown Mavericks. But with his decision out of the way, the free-agent flood gates should finally open.

With Williams off the market, a source with knowledge of the Mavericks' plans said Nash is now the team's top priority among the available point guards. While it's not known how much owner Mark Cuban will be willing to spend on the player he let slip away back in 2004, Dallas is clearly the greatest threat to Toronto's aggressive pitch to land the two-time MVP.

After making an offer to Nash on Sunday that sources said was for three years and $36 million, Raptors officials were feeling even more confident after they appeared to successfully railroad the Knicks' bid for Nash. By agreeing to a three-year, $20 million offer sheet with Knicks restricted free agent shooting guard Landry Fields, the Raptors took away New York's ability to use Fields in a possible sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix. The Knicks still have the full midlevel exception available (max of four years, $20 million).

The sign-and-trade possibilities aren't entirely dead, though. Sources said the Suns would be interested in a sign-and-trade deal that would include Knicks guard Iman Shumpert and other expiring deals that would net Nash a hefty salary. But the 22-year-old defensive specialist has no shortage of fans within the Knicks' organization, and any such move would likely be driven by owner James Dolan's desire to pair a star like Nash with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler for a championship run. Still, Nash to the Knicks seems unlikely at the moment.

Nash has made it clear that money -- and not just a chance to compete for a championship -- matters significantly to him.

"I definitely feel I want to be validated monetarily to an extent," Nash told ESPN Radio recently. "It's still very important. I think money in many ways represents respect. For example, if you sign with a team and take half or less money, six months later they trade you. It has to be one of the factors. It's not everything but it is important and will be one of the factors involved."

The Suns rewarded a different player monetarily Tuesday night by signing Hornets restricted free agent Eric Gordon to maximum four-year, $58 million contract. A source with knowledge of New Orleans' strategy said the team plans to match the offer sheet despite Gordon saying in a prepared statement Tuesday night that Phoenix is "just where my heart is now."

Should the Knicks miss out on landing Nash from the Suns, sources said they would turn their attention to Kidd (as well as Lin, who they've been interested in all along). New York may be the most likely landing spot of all now for the 10-time All-Star, as the Knicks would be thrilled to turn Kidd into their version of Obi-Wan to Lin's Luke. The Nets' recent dealings have left them only able to offer a player like Kidd the veteran's minimum, while the Knicks would be able to offer their mini midlevel exception. If Kidd is convinced that the Mavericks are no longer title contenders and he's drawn to the Big Apple, then New York could be the destination here.

The Lakers are also making a strong push for Nash, according to, though that scenario would likely require a sign-and-trade. It also might be counterintuitive -- though certainly not impossible -- that the Suns would be eager to help their Pacific Division rivals. What's more, Nash said recently that he had a hard time processing that possibility as well.

"It would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey," Nash told ESPN in the same interview. "That's just what it is. You play against them so many times in the playoffs, and I just use them as an example -- I have the utmost respect for them and the organization.

"I think it was Larry Bird, he wouldn't have played for them. I kind of have that tendency, so it is strange. As a free agent, you're free to go wherever you want. I have to consider everything regardless of the past or the future. You have to evaluate in that moment."

But back to the Mavericks. If Nash is gone, the source said Knicks restricted free agent guard Lin is likely the next priority. While Cuban certainly won't be looking to eat into too much of the salary cap space he earned by not keeping Chandler or guard J.J. Barea last offseason, the source said he's still looking to "make a splash" of some sort.

Dragic, according to the source, would likely also be considered, but only became part of the team's internal discussions in recent days.

Dragic, meanwhile, is hoping the Mavericks see him as the best combination of age (26) and talent (far more proven than Lin) and move him up their point guard totem pole.

A source close to Dragic claimed he was offered a five-year, $40 million deal by the Rockets before telling them he wanted to continue testing the market, but a source with knowledge of the situation disputed that financial figure. Dragic, who was Nash's backup in Phoenix during his time there from 2008 to 2011, is being pursued by the Suns as well.

Lin is also a possibility for the Rockets and is expected to receive an offer from them when they meet Wednesday (though a source close to the team said it won't be the maximum four-year, $40 million deal that has been reported elsewhere). Lin is believed to be a backup plan for Toronto if Nash doesn't arrive as well.

The Knicks have the right to match any Lin offer sheet, but teams pursuing him are hopeful that they may let him go if the proposal is so back-heavy (aka the "poison pill") that it ties up New York's payroll a few years from now.

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