Just when people were starting to doubt New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s ability to bring a star player to his team, this bombshell drops roughly 36 hours after he struck out on Carmelo Anthony: Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Nets have traded Devin Harris , Derrick Favors and two first round draft picks to the Utah Jazz for All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Wojnarowski has also reported a side deal sending Troy Murphy and a 2012 second round draft pick to the Golden State Warriors for Brandan Wright and Dan Gadzuric.
The fact that Williams was traded just two weeks after Jerry Sloan stepped down as coach of the Jazz amidst reports of conflict with Williams makes it appear as though Jazz management was not on good terms with their star player. Williams was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 season and we can assume that the Jazz didn’t like their chances of convincing him to re-sign.
By trading Williams now to a team and an owner obviously hungry for star power, Utah GM Kevin O’Connor was able to acquire one of the most desirable young prospects in the league in the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Favors, a decent point guard in Harris who was an All-Star in 2008-09 and will turn 28 in four days, the Nets’ 2011 first round pick (unprotected, as far as we know at the moment) and the Golden State Warriors’ 2012 first round pick that the Nets owned and is protected for the top seven picks in 2012 . Since the Jazz are obviously planning for a retool if not an outright rebuild, this is a very good return on a player who was probably going to bolt after next season.
After failing to convince any big-name free agents to sign with them last summer and apparently failing to convince Anthony to sign an extension with them if they traded for him (unless the Nuggets simply liked the Knicks’ offer better, which is possible), the floundering Nets have a legitimate All-Star that should help them at the box office, at the very least. As if their 17-40 record wasn’t bad enough, they’re also dead last in the league in average attendance. Part of the blame for that should go to their imminent move to Brooklyn, but when the possibility of seeing Kim Kardashian in a courtside seat is your biggest draw, ticket-buyers are not going to flock to the Prudential Center.
Williams’ arrival should inject some temporary local interest in the team, and a possible on-court benefit could be his ability to help 22-year-old center Brook Lopez return to his near-All-Star form of 2009-10. If you follow the conventional wisdom that the best way to build a great NBA team is to have your best players play point guard and center, then you won’t find too many pairings that surpass Williams and Lopez if they’re both playing at their highest levels.
Since the Nets are nine games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 25 games left on their schedule, it’s highly unlikely that this change will propel them into the playoffs this season. But more than anything else, Prokhorov’s ability to pull off a deal this big for a player of Williams’ caliber shows that he’s more than just a smooth talker with big plans. Wherever Prokhorov is right now, his miniature giraffe is probably getting lavished with kisses today.