12:45 pm May. 31, 20121
For the better part of two years, the Nets have tried mightily to acquire Magic center Dwight Howard as an inducement to Deron Williams, their star point guard, to stick around.
Williams is a free agent this summer, and was visibly frustrated by the team's play this season, when the Nets finished 22-44. But the hope has been that once Howard arrived, and the Nets moved to Brooklyn, that Williams would buy into the new plan.
The pursuit of Howard only seemed to get more complicated the longer it went on. He had demanded a trade from Orlando, and a deal with New Jersey seemed imminent at the trade deadline this season. Howard then turned into a basketball Hamlet, repeatedly reversing himself before signing with the Magic for one more season.
He did little to endear himself to Orlando from that point forward, however, trying to get coach Stan Van Gundy fired in a feud that became public, then ending his season early for back surgery.
With Van Gundy now gone, Orlando can try to add a coach to Howard's liking. But the cast of players around him is what led Howard to demand a trade in the first place, and that is unlikely to change.
Which brings us back to the Nets. They have the ability to offer Orlando some future draft picks and talent. But Wednesday night's draft lottery had the potential to increase their options significantly.
The N.B.A. draft lottery has all non-playoff teams in a ping-pong-ball machine like the ones seen in lottery drawings. The worse a team's record, the more ping pong balls. The Nets, sixth-worst, were middle of the pack in likelihood of getting drawn with one of the top three picks.
Had they gotten one of those top three picks, they could keep the pick. Since they didn't, they were forced to surrender it to Sacremento, as part of an ill-advised trade that brought them forward Gerald Wallace.
The pick had value whether they used it or not. Had they kept it, especially had it been the top pick, they could have drafted Kentucky's Anthony Davis, who could be a better bet to excel over the long term than Dwight Howard. Davis is the best center prospect in years, and unlike Howard, Davis has no back problem to navigate.
The pick also could have served as a centerpiece for a Howard deal. Instead, it went toward bringing in Wallace, who has the option to opt out of his contract, which he appears to be leaning toward doing.
So at this point the Nets' least awful option would probably be to sign Howard to a long-term deal, if they can get it, and just praying his back holds up.
It's no way to build a franchise, really. But the bad break with the ping pong balls has trapped them in a bad situation, and now it doesn't look like there's any other way out.