MILWAUKEE -- For the Nets, the NBA trading deadline is like a birthday. It comes only once a year and it is known well ahead of time. When it does arrive, though, it can make you happy or it can make you cringe.
If you're the Nets, it always does make you take notice. It arrives Thursday at 3 p.m., after the Nets and Bucks have finished a rare two-day home-and-home series while, according to reports, the two teams have been competing against each other off the court in trying to acquire Hawks forward Josh Smith. Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that the Nets also have spoken to the Celtics about Paul Pierce.
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Nets general manager Billy King said on Tuesday that the chances of him making a deal stood at about 10 percent, but 10 percent can seem a whole lot greater than zero. At the deadline in the past two years, King has made trades involving nine players and four draft picks. Ten percent is a higher probability than most observers would have given the trade he completed two years ago Friday -- a deal that has made the Nets who they are today and who they will be for the foreseeable future.
Acquiring Deron Williams, whose name had not been mentioned in rumors near the 2011 deadline, sent the Nets on a path toward building a let's-win-now sort of team as it prepared to move to Brooklyn. The trade with the Jazz, for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks and cash, eliminated the Nets from any semblance of a youth movement as they headed into Barclays Center.
The Williams trade led to major talks at the deadline last year involving Dwight Howard, talks that did not materialize. But it did lead to another big deadline deal, with the Nets trading a first-round draft pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace. It cost a pick that gave the Blazers Damian Lillard, a point guard who is the frontrunner to be rookie of the year. But the Nets probably would not have chosen him. Getting a reliable, driven veteran was another step in persuading Williams to re-sign with the Nets by giving a sign that the team was striving to be competitive right away.
King used the same rationale in trading for Joe Johnson this past summer, and it apparently helped convince Williams. The bottom line is, because of the philosophy they adopted at the deadline two years ago, the Nets still are in the mix for any prominent name that happens to go on the block. And they are in the mix for a top-four seed, and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In terms of marketing, it has been a success. The Nets have drawn well at Barclays Center and their merchandise sales have jumped dramatically. Whether they are on the right track in terms of basketball, however, remains to be seen. Williams is dealing with questions -- even in his own mind -- about whether he can be the elite player King described post-trade as the best point guard in the NBA.
P.J. Carlesimo said earlier this week he was "befuddled" by the questions surrounding Williams. Oddly, the Nets interim coach seemed put off by questions in general before the game Wednesday night. He gave much shorter answers than usual, but in one case, he probably was being as expansive as he could.
When he was asked if the Nets would look different after 3 p.m. today, Carlesimo said, "I have no idea."