12:18 pm Jul. 2, 20121
Just what are the Brooklyn Nets doing?
With N.B.A. free agency underway, they're are everywhere. They're talking to Steve Nash. They're signing Gerald Wallace to a long-term deal. They're pushing to retain Deron Williams. They're being alluded to (for legal reasons, not explicitly) by Orlando's Dwight Howard, the league's best center, as the only team he wants to play for. And they're in talks to engineer a massive deal for Joe Johnson, the Atlanta Hawks' shooting guard, who possesses what is widely considered to be an untradeably bad contract.
The Nets are unlikely to execute all of these deals; really, the salary cap would prove prohibitive even if they wanted to. But it is that final trade for Johnson that would vastly complicate their ability to both add Howard and, more to the point, compete for a championship anytime soon.
Consider what the acquisition of Johnson, taken with retention of Williams, would mean. Let's assume, for these purposes, that Williams is in favor of such a deal. It is hard to imagine the Nets, after wooing him for more than a year, are planning a major acquisition without Williams on board for it.
Suddenly, the Nets would have both Williams and Johnson signed to max deals. If the reports of Gerald Wallace signing for four years, $40 million are true, then the three players will make enough in conjunction with center Brook Lopez, shooting guard Marshon Brooks and a collection of league-minimum players to put Brooklyn over the salary cap.
At that point, a trade for Dwight Howard becomes essentially impossible, since the two teams couldn't line up on salaries, plus the Nets wouldn't have much of value to give Orlando. And signing Howard when he becomes a free agent next summer is similarly implausible, given the pay limitations the Nets would face in any offer to him.
But Howard, in this case, is really just a proxy. The Nets, in the Johnson/Williams/Wallace era, would have trouble adding anyone with a significant salary for years.
That would be problematic even if all three players were capable of performing together like, say, LeBron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat.
They aren't, of course. Williams is a top point guard. But both Johnson, 31, and Wallace, 30, have displayed signs of slowing down. The Nets would be paper-thin inside, with only Lopez offering scoring from the center position, along with an unfortunate recent injury history. And they'd have depth consisting of Brooks, Tyshawn Taylor, and little else.
There's a reason that the Hawks are willing to consider trading Johnson, who is still a quality shooting guard, for a collection of the Nets' unwanted players. In this case, the something isn't better than nothing, and Johnson would become the Nets' impediment to building a championship team, rather than Atlanta's.
If the choice is between adding Johnson and seeing Williams sign elsewhere, the deal might make sense for marketing reasons. In basketball terms, though, it could keep the Nets down among the league's non-contenders for a while.