NBA @ 2: Deron Williams Questions New Jersey
The huge story of the 2011/2012 NBA Season has been the future of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. In the background, but no less important, is the status of New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, who can also opt out of his contract at the end of the season to become a free agent.
On Tuesday, Williams admitted to HOOPSWORLD that he isn’t sure if he’ll return to the Nets.
“My priority is winning a championship,” said Deron. “I don’t know where I’m going to be next season, and I have to be ready to take my game to the next level, wherever I am.”
Certainly when the Nets traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks to the Utah Jazz, they expected to retain Williams for more than just a year and a half.
“I feel good about where I am in my career. I’ve accomplished a lot of things individually, and that’s been great. I’ve been recognized as an All-Star and that sort of thing, but what I really want now is to win a championship,” said Williams. “The individual stuff is great, but I’m ready to chase a bigger team goal.”
So far this season, New Jersey is just 10-25 and while they’ve had multiple injuries, even at full strength they don’t appear close to contention.
Multiple sources have linked Deron to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. To open up enough cap space, Dallas would need to use their Amnesty Clause on a player like Brendan Haywood and let go of partially guaranteed players like Vince Carter and Lamar Odom.
Making room for Williams wouldn’t be difficult. Dallas would still have Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and other avenues to build a contender.
Also a free agent after this year, incumbent point guard Jason Kidd told Jeff Caplan of ESPN he would love to play with Williams.
“We have the same agent,” said Kidd. “Wherever he ends up, I’m going to try to end up. Package deal.”
There’s even talk of Dallas trying to open up enough cap space to lure both Howard and Williams in free agency, although that may be difficult for the Mavericks and would rely on both players taking a (relatively) minor pay-cut.
“I always like playing (in Dallas),” said Williams (according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “It’s my favorite arena — one of my favorite arenas to play in, probably my favorite to play in.”
“I just enjoy playing here — enjoy playing in front of my friends, family,” continued Deron. “It’s always good for them to get the chance to come and see me play.”
Even Coach Avery Johnson acknowledged the Dallas possibility to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
“He’s a threat, OK?” Johnson said of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I know the guy. I think because of the success he’s had — and I know he got criticized a lot for quote-unquote having all those years where he didn’t win a championship — but he’s had some great success here that rivals any situation. So that’s a threat.”
Of course that may be moot if the Nets can find a way to acquire Howard in trade before the March 15th deadline.
Orlando may deal him to the Nets, which would all but lead Deron re-signing. Then again the Magic may send Howard elsewhere or, it what may be the most likely move, try to keep him.
Some sources believe Dwight may not even hit free agency this summer, opting in for the final year of his contract in Orlando, and testing the free agent waters the following year. The Magic still hold out on hope that they can keep their star long term and simply decide to take their chances.
The Nets are trying to engage other teams to partake in a deal that would appease the Magic but there’s no guarantee. What of Williams if Howard is dealt to another franchise in early March?
Would New Jersey in turn look to trade Williams instead of facing the risk of losing him without compensation over the summer?
The timing alone may be prohibitive if Howard is dealt right before the deadline. Certainly New Jersey won’t give up on the Williams/Howard possibility until all avenues are exploited.
A source close to the Nets has indicated the team is likely to roll the dice in July (if no Howard deal at the deadline) and if losing Deron is the result, get right back on the road to rebuild with plenty of cap space.
New Jersey has tremendous pressure to land Howard before the deadline, or at worst, in free agency. They may . . . but equally the franchise may be starting over once again this summer.
Wilson Chandler Free of China
According to agent Chris Luchey, Wilson Chandler has been cleared to sign with an NBA team after spending the season playing in China.
During the lockout, Chandler signed with the Zhejiang Lions. After helping his team get to the playoffs, Wilson left before the postseason in preparation for his return to the NBA.
Now that his team was eliminated from the CBA postseason, Chandler finally has the green light.
As a restricted free agent, Wilson is dependent on the Denver Nuggets to make him a viable offer. Sources indicate the Nuggets are offering a multi-year deal, but one that’s not quite as lucrative as Chandler had hoped.
Denver has the option of offering a one-year deal, allowing Wilson to be unrestricted this summer, but that doesn’t appear to be a path the Nuggets are willing to take.
To gain leverage, Chandler is hoping to get an offer sheet from teams like the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers or even Cleveland Cavaliers. Another team can make a qualifying offer until March 1st, after which the only franchise that Chandler can legally sign with this season would be the Nuggets (unless they renounced his rights, but won’t).
The Raptors have interest but would need to clear more space to make a sizable offer. The Nuggets would be able to match any deal if they so choose.
If Chandler doesn’t sign with a team this season, he’ll be restricted once again this summer.
Clippers Facing March Test
The Los Angeles Clippers come out of the All-Star Break with a 20-11 record, best in the Pacific Division and third overall in in the Western Conference.
The franchise was on the rise after Blake Griffin’s powerful Rookie of the Year season but made more of a quantum leap when they traded for Chris Paul.
“I think when everybody talks about the Clippers last year all the kept saying was they were a point guard away from being pretty special and they go out and get a top four point guard in basketball,” said Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl. “The thing I love about Chris Paul is he’s extremely bright on the court. He knows what I’m trying to do against him quicker than sometimes the team and the coaches knows what I’m trying to do against him and he has that will to force it, that he’s going to win. He just has a will to win the game that is very prevalent in the fourth quarter. So they get a great talent who makes teams better, makes players better and he gets a great fourth quarter player and then you throw Chauncey in there with that. It’s a pretty powerful pick up.”
Unfortunately Billups is out for the season with an Achilles’ injury. The team is still looking for ways to fill that gap with Randy Foye taking over the starting shooting guard spot.
The Clippers don’t like the idea of giving up any talent (Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams, a first-round pick, etc.) unless it brings back a player like Ray Allen.
For now they’ve signed former Clipper, small forward Bobby Simmons, to a 10-day contract.
The team tried to sign J.R. Smith but he opted to play for the New York Knicks (on a bigger salary than the Clippers could provide). Another former Nugget on the Clipper roster is Kenyon Martin who has very quickly made the team better and tougher defensively.
“If we make it a fourth quarter game I think we have to deal with Kenyon on the defensive end of the court how he can take the best player on the court,” said Karl, noting that Martin can guard almost any position on the court from point guard all the way up to certain centers.
Although he last left STAPLES Center disgusted after losing the Clippers on January 30th, All-Star Kevin Durant admitted his respect for the team.
“Chauncey Billups is a really good friend of mine from playing USA basketball and it’s tough to see him go out. In this league injuries happen and guys step up and I really like their team,” said Durant. “They beat us pretty badly up in LA so hopefully we get them back soon but they’re playing very well. Chris Paul is a game changer and Blake Griffin is just a phenomenal player. They have a really good team that’s going to be really tough to beat in the next half of the season.”
The Clippers will be especially tested through the 31 days of March. LA will play 20 games including six-game and three-game road trips. They’ll play five back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back.
Some of the teams the Clippers will see in March? The Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers.
Even if they play at a very high level, it’s going to be a challenge to come out of March nine-games above .500 where they currently sit.
The trade deadline is March 15th. It remains to be seen if LA will be a participant.
To close out the month of February, the clippers will host Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
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