Since the trade deadline, many analysts and writers have called the New Jersey Nets "losers." Maybe the trade for Gerald Wallace was a questionable move, considering they gave up a lottery pick in this year's upcoming draft for a physical, one-time All Star who can choose to walk after this year along with the likes of point guard Deron Williams, but we don't know that for now. In a recent interview, Williams was optimistic about the Nets' future, and by no means ruled out a return to the Brooklyn-bound team. He stated he and his family love living in New York City and are enjoying the area and all its marvels very much. The one thing Williams wants most though is to win. A playoff berth this year would be a miracle, but with a strong finish, can that alone persuade Williams and Wallace to stay long-term? Here are some others ways the Nets can keep them:
1) Re-sign your team's core players.
Most of the focus on the Nets' free agents this year are on Williams and Wallace, but there are also other key core players that also have the option to leave the team. First is Brook Lopez. Yes, he was injury prone this season. Yes, he is not the best center when it comes to rebounding. And yes, he does not have the best haircut either. But, he scores. One of the Nets' biggest problems the past couple of years has been inefficient offense. Lopez has been if not the only, one of the few consistent scorers in the Nets' system. He averages around 20 points per game, is a legitimate scorer at any spot inside the 3-point line, and even his free throw shooting is fairly nice for a big man. Without an argument, he is the focal point of the offense. Fans saw flashes of what he could have been this season in the nail-biting victory against Dallas earlier in the year, when Lopez scored 39 points. If the long-term plan for GM Billy King is to acquire Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, he must re-sign Lopez or another All Star center like Roy Hibbert because Orlando will not accept any package if it doesn't include one of them. Second is Kris Humphries. He will most likely never be an All Star, but for the Nets, he plays like one almost every night. Humphries was usually the guy who saved Lopez on the glass last year, and is outplaying his numbers last year this year. He averages a double-double, works hard, plays good defense, and has improved his all around game. He is a big, gritty player who is an impact and a force when he steps onto the court, and could be an important part of a possible trade for Howard. Third, and lastly, is Gerald Green. This high energy wing player was bought up from the D-League, and has played spectacular since. When he was on the Boston Celtics, he was known best for his high-flying dunks. He still does that now, but his game has vastly improved since. He is a good 3-point shooter, and can become a dangerous isolation player when he gets in a groove. He attacks the glass, and like Humphries, plays at 110 percent every night. He is a cheap, young player whose game is still developing, but he can become a nice role player off the bench in the future like a Jason Terry of the Mavericks or Lou Williams of the 76ers.
2) Make good use of the NBA Draft.
In a couple months, the NBA Draft will take place in the Net's current home arena, the Prudential Center. This year's talent that is coming out is regarded as very high and has players that are full of potential. If the Nets wind up lucky and attain a top 3 pick, they should select Thomas Robinson from Kansas. This forward is quick, lengthy, and hustles every night. He is not the greatest scorer, but rebounds and defends well. His game should translate nicely at the pro level, and although he is still developing, I believe he will be a solid player in this league for years to come. If they end up with the #1 overall pick, it is without a question they should select Anthony Davis from Kentucky. The high-octane forward/center was the reason the Wildcats won the championship this year, and is a defensive monster. Pairing Davis with Lopez would be a great luxury for the Nets. However, if the Nets do not end up with a top 3 pick, they do have a pick that will likely end up between #15-18, but only if the Rockets make the playoffs. If the Rockets don't, then the Nets are shut out completely from the first round in a deep draft. But let's not worry about that for now. If the Nets do indeed get this pick, I think there are several nice options the team could look at. First is Jared Sullinger. This is a reach, but if the former Ohio State big man falls down this far, the Nets have to grab him. He has size, toughness, and a satisfactory all around game. He was a dominant force in college, and is not a project like other inexperienced collegiate players. I believe his skills, if paired with a quality point guard like Deron Williams, can translate effectively to the NBA. Second is John Henson from North Carolina. The former Tar Heel power forward is lanky and a great defensive player. He can jump, block shots, and rebound. He needs to work on his strength and offensive game, but his defense will translate smoothly at the next level. He is projected to be drafted right around where the Nets would pick. Thirdly is Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague. Some scouts have said he's already better than his brother, Jeff, the starting point guard for the Atlanta Hawks. Marquis can do it all. He can shoot, pass, and can be the biggest steal of the draft when it's all said and done. This is arguably a high value for him, but this move might be necessary if the Nets can't re-sign Deron Williams, so they won't be left with nothing. They could also include Teague in a trade for Howard, because the Magic are looking for a point guard for the future. In the second round, the Nets have the Heat's pick, which basically means it's at the bottom five of the draft. Most teams that low usually waste the pick on a player people never heard of, but there are diamonds in the rough, like rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas of Sacramento, who has by far exceeded expectations. There are numerous options that the Nets could use this pick on, including Scott Machado. The senior from Iona is a pass-first point guard who can fill up the stat line on any given night. He does a little bit of everything, and could be a nice compliment to Deron Williams. Next are a couple big men from the Big East, Henry Sims from Georgetown and Herb Pope from Seton Hall. While some scouts believe Pope won't fall this far, the undersized forward is a tough player who can score and crash the boards. He can shoot from the outside, and has improved his free throw shooting. Sims is similar to once Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. Sims plays a similar style to Hibbert and really came on the scene this season. His potential seems nice, so I think he'd be a good contributor off the bench and possibly become a starter one day.
3) Use your money wisely in free agency.
Please Billy King, use your cap room wisely. Don't panic and sign players like Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro to unworthy long term deals. The problem with the Nets is that they tend to wait for the dust to settle. This season, they waited until Dwight Howard ensured he was staying in Orlando and made what many think was a "panic move" by trading a lottery pick for Gerald Wallace. Two years ago, they were shut out after LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, and last year, they only signed short term role players like Shelden Williams and DeShawn Stevenson. This year, the Nets need to make a move right away if they want to keep Williams and Wallace in New Jersey/Brooklyn. Williams, especially, has no time for games and waiting around. He wants to win now. Billy King must realize that actions speak louder than words. The fans know you're trying to do a lot of things to improve the team, but I don't see results Mr. King. Gerald Wallace was a nice acquisition, and Billy King's logic to the trade is controversial, but understandable. Wallace, however, cannot be your second option on a team. He is a nice player, but he is not a superstar like Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony. This year's class doesn't have the immense pool of talent like two years ago, but there are some quality players. Most are solid but cheap role players who I think the Nets should go after like Raptors combo guard Jerryd Bayless, Cavaliers wing Alonzo Gee, Trail Blazers big man J.J. Hickson, and Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. However, I think there are three main targets the Nets must pursue. First is Roy Hibbert. The Pacers center is having the best season of his career, and was deservingly named to his first All-Star game earlier in the year. This towering athlete has a solid, efficient post game and is a defensive beast in the paint. The small-market team has a lot of young talent it might prefer to invest in, but they might want to go for a veteran point guard like Steve Nash and draft a young center like Meyers Leonard from Illinois instead of signing Hibbert. There are multiple scenarios that Indiana can go through, but many teams in the league will make a run at Hibbert. I believe the Nets should go after him because he is better than Brook Lopez. There, I said it. If the main goal is to get Dwight Howard, I think Magic GM Otis Smith would want Hibbert over Lopez any day. Hibbert is having a great year, and is a much better rebounder, while Lopez has been injured nearly all season and hasn't shown any GMs what he can be capable of. Hibbert is a rising star, and I think he is more attractive to play with than Lopez. I think signing him would appease to Deron Williams more than to signing Lopez. If I was Billy King, I would probably overpay Hibbert just to get him, because down the road he can be worth a max contract, if that's what is offered to him. Second is the Hornets' Eric Gordon. This flashy two guard is oddly similar to Brook Lopez in a number of ways. They are both injured almost all this season, still young, good scorers, and solid defenders, but neither have made that leap from good, recognizable player to All Star. However, I believe pairing Gordon with Williams could give the Nets the best backcourt in the Atlantic Division. Gordon has a very nice offensive game and could truly do everything on that end of the floor. I believe he'd be a great compliment to Williams, and they could become like Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton from their days together in Detroit, but even better. Signing Gordon also makes rookie MarShon Brooks expendable, and the Magic have been impressed by his skill set. Pairing Hibbert in a trade with Brooks and a first round pick should be enough to convince the Magic to trade Howard. Lastly is Nicolas Batum. Wait, who? Unless you are a hardcore NBA fan, you've probably never heard of him. So I'll give you a quick background. He's the starting small forward for the Portland Trail Blazers. He is young, but gifted. His game is improving every day and he is the reason why Gerald Wallace was traded to the Nets so quickly. Portland had many reasons to move Wallace, but the main reason was to get this guy on the court more. His game is solid on both sides of the floor, and he is primed for a breakout season next year. If Wallace decides to leave, the Nets should definitely pursue Batum. I think Batum is a much better option than any other small forward in both free agency and the Nets' position in the 2012 NBA Draft, with the exception of Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. One thing though, is that Hibbert, Gordon, and Batum are all restricted free agents. That means that the Nets can sign them to an offer sheet, but they have to do it before anybody else and the team each of them are on right now has the option to match the offer, and if they do, they retain their player. Some notable unrestricted free agents include Chris Kaman, Kevin Garnett, Antawn Jamison, and Brian Scalabrine.
So there you have it. I think a lot of people will be interested in what happens to the Nets this offseason. Who will they retain from this year's team? In what spots will the Nets land in this year's draft? Will they even get a first round pick? Will they sign players that will get them to the next level or role players that can only contribute in a basic manner? Most importantly, will they be contenders like in 2003? Or will they be arguably the biggest laughing stock of the NBA like in 2010? Only time will tell.