NEW YORK — For five months, beginning with a clandestine, late September night meeting between general managers Billy King and Masai Ujiri in a back room at New York City’s Ritz Carlton, the Nets pursued Carmelo Anthony, only to get outbid last week by the Knicks, who surrendered the last piece demanded by the Nuggets — Timofey Mozgov — rather than chance losing him to New Jersey.
The very next day, in an educated effort to stop the shrugging masses from sighing, “Same old Nets,” King called Jazz VP Kevin O’Connor about Devin Harris. If you recall, Utah was involved in the originally leaked four-team exchange involving ‘Melo, the fourth being the Bobcats, then coached by Larry Brown.
King, O’Connor and Brown worked together in Philadelphia and had relationships long before that, dating back to Larry’s Final Four UCLA squad (Kevin assisted) and Billy’s playing days pre-Duke; Larry recruited him in 1983 while at Kansas.
At first, the discussion between O’Connor and King did not include Deron Williams; it was Harris in a package for a couple Jazz players. When King called back he delicately broached O’Connor about dealing his franchise face.
After a slight hesitation, O’Connor said, “Let me think about it, I’ll get back to you.”
Two succeeding conversations, one later that day and one the next morning, clinched the deal. The whole process took fewer than 24 hours.
Very quietly, quickly and professionally, Williams, who unmistakably helped convert Jerry Sloan into a mid-season quitter, was transferred from a 31-26 assembly to a 17-40 outfit; this is how the Jazz settle family business.
Prior to King bringing up Williams’ name, as luck would have it — good luck, for a change, versus bad, the Nets’ standard brand — a trade proposal to the Blazers was not accepted . . . but it came dangerously close.
The Nets offered Harris, Troy Murphy and the 2012 first-round pick of Houston’s for Greg Oden, Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla. Portland instead required Golden State’s 2012 (protected through seven) that they owned.
Only the next 104 games, of course, will reveal whether the Nets’ acquisition of inarguably the NBA’s prime minister of the point is a coup or an epic wardrobe malfunction.
If Deron checks out, the Nets blew a wad of prime picks and a starting playmaker. If he re-ups past next season, they hooked up with a Brooklyn crowd-pleaser skilled enough to eradicate their stepchild image and attract other luminaries.
We’re talking one or two possibly this summer ($19 million in cap space) with Dwight Howard definitively being targeted the following summer (potentially $26 million) by the Nets, Lakers, Knicks (maybe as much as $15 million per season) and everybody else, the Magic, too, I assume.
At least one player realized immediately what Williams means to the Nets. Every player is about to get noticeably better and their jobs considerably easier because of what he can do for himself and them.
Suns forward Jared Dudley tweeted, “Wow! Everybody is gonna want to play with Deron when the Nets go to Brooklyn.”
At last week’s news conference, Williams went from being unsure about his Nets’ future to a willing recruiter. I suspect, the best way to convince prospective teammates to sign on the dotted line is to sign on first.
Still, a rival GM applauded the Nets for taking the ultimate risk.
“In our business there can only be one champion each year, so we’ve got to be willing to take the plunge to compete for the title,” he said. “I wish there was more of such risk-taking in our league. The Nets now have a chance to be great.”
My initial prediction is that Deron is more likely to make it to Brooklyn than Avery Johnson. I know he has promised to allow Williams to call the plays and jokingly mentioned he can play as many minutes as he wants.
How long do you think their honeymoon will last, a month, a week, a game, a quarter, a botched possession?
I’m guessing Deron will tire quickly of Avery’s rants, even if they’re directed at him. Legit leaders don’t stand by and allow their coaches to verbally abuse and disrespect their teammates.
In no time, I’m guessing, Deron will yearn for Sloan.
Last week’s most bewildering trade was the Celtics-Thunder swap.
Damned if I can remember a conference leader who renovated the roster before the start of the second act.
First, Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson move to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Next, forward thinkers Luke Harangody and Semih Erden are sacrificed for — drum roll, please — a Cavaliers second-round selection.
Last I checked, this is the same Celtics squad that wasn’t exactly overstocked with healthy oversized people . . . unless Bill Russell’s Medal of Freedom came complete with a contract.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.