Two days after failing to lure Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey and watching him get traded to the Knicks, the Nets acquired another superstar who's been on their Hudson River rivals' radar for a while now: Deron Williams.
The Nets Wednesday picked up Williams, Utah's All-Star point guard, in exchange for point guard Devin Harris, rookie power forward Derrick Favors and $3 million in cash. The Nets also shipped their first-round pick in the upcoming June draft, and sent Golden State's 2012 first-round pick to the Jazz to complete the stunning deal.
Williams, who has an opt-out in his contract he can exercise following the 2011-12 season, will potentially be part of a 2012 free agent class that includes Hornets point guard Chris Paul and Magic All-Star Dwight Howard. But even if Williams winds up inking a new extension - which, according to the current NBA collective bargaining agreement, he can't do until July 9 - the Knicks can still turn their attention to Paul, who made news back at Anthony's wedding here in New York in July during his now famous toast.
Paul made it clear he wouldn't be adverse to forming his own Big Three in the Big Apple with Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. There were rumblings back in the summer that Paul wanted out, and the Knicks looked into it. But nothing materialized.
Still, with Paul's ability to opt out of his contract following next season, New Orleans may find itself in a similar situation as Utah and Denver - potentially seeing their franchise star walk and go play for another team, leaving them without compensation. That's where Chauncey Billups' expiring contract may prove to be a big bargaining chip for the Knicks if they pursue Paul, given Billups' $14.2 million salary for next season can aid another team trying to clear cap space.
The Knicks are confident they'll have enough space to sign another max free agent next offseason.
As for Williams, he was shocked by yesterday's trade, as were many others around the league who didn't see it coming. But after losing out on Anthony, Nets billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov was determined to land a player to build around as the Nets prepare to move to Brooklyn in time for the 2012-13 campaign.
They found their man - for now - in Williams, although that could change if he decides he wants to test free agency rather than sign an extension with the Nets.
"I feel Deron Williams is the best point guard in the NBA," Nets general manager Billy King told reporters in Newark. "I spoke with Deron and he's excited about it. He understands where we are and where we want to go.
"In this league, you win with point guards. Jason Kidd turned this franchise around when he came and we feel Deron can do the same thing."
Williams, a sixth-year pro who's averaging 17.3 points, 9.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds in his career, found out he had been sent out of town while watching "SportsCenter" in the training room with his teammates.
The trade ended a wild two-week span for the third overall pick in 2005, who was partially blamed by some for Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's sudden, abrupt Feb. 10 resignation. Then over this past weekend at the All-Star break, news surfaced that Williams reportedly has said he wanted to play for the Knicks.
But Jazz CEO Greg Miller, speaking at a news conference in Salt Lake City to announce the trade, said Williams' reported desire to play in New York didn't speed up his exit out of town.
"I wouldn't say that accelerated it," Miller told reporters. "To me, this deal happened when it did because the opportunity presented itself when it did. This deal came to us, and with all the uncertainty about Deron's plans for the future and about what the 2011-12 season holds for the NBA, we saw this as a window of opportunity that would be only open for basically 36 hours, maybe 48 hours.
"And we felt after a thorough discussion and analysis of all possible outcomes, that this was the scenario that was in the best interests of the Jazz long term. And as I've said, it had to happen when it did. We probably would have made the same deal absent any of the discussion or any of the rumors or whatever that seemed to be a part of All-Star weekend."