The Russian will not be mollified.
In a huge response to being shut out of the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the New Jersey Nets and their owner Mikhail Prokhorov turned around Wednesday and acquired one of the NBA’s top point guards, forging a deal with the Utah Jazz that sends All-Star Deron Williams to New Jersey for rookie forward Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris. The Jazz also receive two Draft picks from New Jersey.
The Nets tried in vain for months to get Anthony from the Denver Nuggets, but were never able to put a deal together because of Anthony’s refusal to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension. (Anthony signed the extension Wednesday to make a three-team deal between Denver, New York and Minnesota official. Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman are going to New York; Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton and Timofey Mozgov are going to Denver — along with center Kosta Koufos from Minnesota, three Draft picks and cash from the Knicks. The Timberwolves get forward Anthony Randolph and the expiring contract of center Eddy Curry from the Knicks.)
But New Jersey struck back with a vengeance, getting the 26-year-old Williams, an all-NBA second team selection last season who is currently third in the NBA in assists.
NBA.com reported on Tuesday that the Nets, after being spurned by Anthony, would turn their attention to the free agent Class of 2012, including Williams and Orlando all-pro center Dwight Howard. Prokhorov wants at least two star players in place by the time the team officially moves from Newark to its new arena in Brooklyn in 2012. To be able to sell season tickets and suites in advance of that move, the Nets had to have at least one of those stars already in place to entice fans and corporate sponsors to pony up and not have to pay on spec. In Williams, the Nets have a star.
Williams had grown increasingly frustrated with the Jazz in the last year, as Utah struggled with keeping its core group together while not going too far into luxury tax territory. Owner Greg Miller had committed Utah to being a tax payer for the next couple of years, but Utah opted to let guard Ronnie Brewer go last year instead of trying to re-sign him as a free agent, sending him to Memphis at last year’s trade deadline. The Jazz then were not able to re-sign All-Star forward Carlos Boozer, watching him go to Chicago along with key reserve guard Kyle Korver in free agency. Utah also lost out on surprising rookie guard Wesley Matthews, opting not to match an offer sheet he received from Portland.
Each of these decisions angered Williams, who thought the team was losing ground in the Western Conference. Utah acquired forward Al Jefferson from Minnesota in an offseason deal to replace Boozer, and Jefferson has played well at times for the Jazz. But Utah has struggled through much of the season. The team lost its bellwether earlier this month when longtime coach Jerry Sloan suddenly resigned after 23 years as the team’s head coach. He had been the longest tenured coach in professional sports.
Williams had clashed with Sloan at times this season, criticizing what he felt was a predictable offense that Sloan had grown accustomed to over the years. He also hoped the Jazz would run more than they’d been running. When Sloan resigned, one of the key reasons offered in the local media was his increasingly toxic relationship with Williams.
Though the Jazz were quick to defend Williams and say his actions were not the cause of Sloan’s resignation, fans in Salt Lake City became split on whether they would continue to back their star point guard. At the same time, the Jazz fell into a losing streak. They have lost five in a row at home, the first time Utah has had such a losing streak since 1982.
So Utah apparently decided to head off what would have been increasing speculation about Williams’ future by dealing him now.
Favors, the rookie power forward from Georgia Tech, was a player the Jazz had coveted before last year’s Draft. He will provide a solid one-two inside presence with Jefferson. Harris had fallen out of favor in New Jersey and was definitely going to be moved before Thursday’s trade deadline.