How the Brooklyn Nets could steal the 2012 off-season

how-brooklyn-nets-could-steal-2012-season
Dwight Howard. (nba.com)
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It looks like last call for the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. And the Brooklyn Nets, incredibly, could be the winners.

But the picture looked quite different even 24 hours ago. And the Nets have appeared close before.

Here's where things stand: The Nets blew their extra salary cap space Monday in a massive deal to acquire Joe Johnson, the six-time All Star shooting guard, from the Atlanta Hawks.

The deal to bring Johnson, whose contract will saddle the Nets with a good but likely declining player for the next four years, also guaranteed Deron Williams a significant offensive piece should Williams return. The salary, if combined with a new deal for Williams and the four-year, $40 million deal agreed to by Gerald Wallace, meant the Nets simply couldn't sign Howard if he became a free agent next summer. They simply wouldn't have room under the salary cap.

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That leaves only one avenue to Brooklyn: for the Magic to accept whatever the Nets have lying around, along with some draft picks, for the best center in the N.B.A. It leaked early this morning that in an abrupt turnaround, the Magic were now considering doing just that.

The problem with such a deal is that it essentially, for the price of Dwight Howard, puts the Magic in precisely the hopeless place the Nets were a year ago. The players involved--center Brook Lopez, forward Kris Humphries, guard MarShon Brooks--are all talented role players. The draft picks--first-rounders in 2013, 2015 and 2017--wouldn't be worth much, seeing as how they'd probably be very late first rounders, slot determined by the record of a Nets team with Howard, Williams and Johnson.

Two things could be going on here.

One is that Dwight Howard, by declaring that he will only sign with one team (which Orlando GM Rob Hennigan has confirmed to be was the Nets), has scared off any other teams from trading more talent than the meager haul offered by the Nets.

But a different scenario is that Hennigan has simply leaked this trade offer to let the league know: beat this price, which is by necessity the best offer the Nets can provide and, at the same time, not very much, and the best center in the N.B.A. can be yours for a year, along with the right to offer him significantly more money next summer than anyone else.

And remember: when a non-Nets team acquiring Howard is trying to convince him to stay, the Nets won't have the cap room to offer him anything, really.

So this plot may have some twists left in it. But the idea of a super team in Brooklyn isn't crazy anymore.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

YANKEES

The Yankees lost a chance to beat the Tampa Bay Rays last night, losing 4-3 on Mark Teixeira's first error of the season. They still lead Tampa Bay by 6.5 games.

METS

The Phillies come to Citi Field trailing the Mets by 7.5 games, and seemingly ready to raise the white flag on their season. The Daily News says the Mets and Dodgers are out of their money pits,  although (as I've written) the Dodgers are in better shape than the Mets.

KNICKS

The Knicks' pursuit of Steve Nash continues. But no, it isn't likely to come at the expense of retaining Jeremy Lin. Something to consider, though: if it comes down to a race for Nash between the Knicks and Toronto Raptors, the Atlantic Division will consist of the champion Heat, a still-formidable Celtics, the Stoudemire/Anthony Knicks, the Johnson/Williams/Howard Nets, and a Raptors team with Nash and not much else. That could tip Nash toward New York.

Marc Berman thinks the Knicks should offer Orlando Tyson Chandller and Amar'e Stoudemire for Howard. That made sense months ago, and it makes sense now.

Lin, meanwhile, has pulled out of playing for the USA Select Team this summer, since as a free agent, he is uninsured against injury. 

The Knicks are on Marcus Camby's list of teams, and could be a good fit.