Nets' new owner begins quest to transform his franchise
Mikhail D. Prokhorov, the new owner of the New Jersey Nets, struck out in his pursuit of Denver All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
But the Russian billionaire kept swinging and, on Wednesday, he acquired Deron Williams from Utah.
Call it the shot heard 'round the NBA.
Not only did Prokhorov match the hoopla surrounding Tuesday's acquisition of Anthony by neighboring New York, he demonstrated his resolve to make the Nets relevant again while sharing the league's biggest market with the Knicks.
Williams is the marquee player New Jersey has been missing for years the desperately-needed star attraction that a long-struggling franchise needs as it makes the move to a new arena in Brooklyn in 2012-13.
There are risks, however.
Williams can opt out of his contract in 2012, meaning he could walk away from the Nets.
That concern drove the Jazz to trade him.
During last week's All-Star festivities, in fact, Williams reportedly told associates he wanted to join Anthony in New York. Other possible destinations included Dallas, his hometown, or Los Angeles, where he could he could become a teammate of rising star Blake Griffin.
As a result, Prokhorov must convince Williams to sign a contract extension with the Nets, otherwise the bold plan to make him the franchise's centerpiece will quickly fall apart. The Nets owner may also be banking on NBA teams being able to slap franchise tags on their best players as the NFL does as part of a new collective-bargaining agreement.
"It's a major, major gamble," said one NBA source. "He can walk away in a year and 20 games. Maybe [the Nets] just brought him closer to New York. ... If he goes to the Knicks now, he can walk."
The New York Times called the acquisition of Williams the latest shot in "arms race" between the Nets and the Knicks.
"Deron Williams, I feel, is the best point guard in the NBA and when you want to try to win, you need a point guard and you need a center," said Nets general manager Billy King. "I think we have two of the best," he added, referring to the pairing of Williams and Nets center Brook Lopez.
King insists he isn't worried about Williams' ability to opt out of a contract that will pay him $17.8 million in 2012-13.
"I don't look at it as a gamble, I really don't," he said. "I look at it as we've acquired a player who's going to be a cornerstone of our franchise for a long time."
To get Williams, the Nets sent rookie Derrick Favors, veteran point guard Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and $3 million to Utah. But New Jersey coach Avery Johnson considers the deal well worth the risk.
"We think he's one of the top guys," Johnson said of Williams. "Physical strength. Mentally and physically, we think he's one of the strongest guys at his position in the NBA.
"We need to continue to upgrade our roster so that we can become a perennial playoff team and some day become a team that come compete for a championship we're neither of those right now," Johnson added.
And the Nets are looking forward to greeting the new acquisition.
"He's a player that one night he can have 18 assists and eight points, or, if you need him to score 20-plus, he can do that as well, said Nets forward Kris Humphries, Williams' onetime Jazz teammate. He's "very versatile; has nice size; brings smaller guys down low a little bit he's just a guy that can play half court [and] a guy that can play full court."
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