Dwight Howard is the Alpha and Omega of both the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline and the hopes and dreams of the New Brooklyn (né New Jersey) Nets. The Nets have been trying to pull Howard since the summer, and it's difficult to overstate the importance of landing the big man given all the awful dominoes that could fall if N.J.'s bid falls through.
To wit: without Howard, the odds of keeping Deron Williams figure to shrink dramatically. The Nets are awful, far out of playoff contention even in the East. Why would Williams commit to Brooklyn in July if the Nets continue to prove unable to land a second star to help him make the postseason? If the Nets lose out on Howard and lose Williams, the team would be opening up the shiny new Barclays Center with a roster featuring ... Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and Jordan Farmar?
Yes, the stakes are high.
NEEDS & TARGETS
Williams is an ace at point guard, and Lopez is pretty good on offense at center. Kris Humphries is a solid rebounder, Brooks can score with volume and Farmar's a good backup point guard. Other than that, the well is completely dry. The Nets need upgrades at three starting positions; Brooks is a classic third guard and Hump is more specialist than anything. Howard would be a huge answer at center, giving the Nets the league's best center-point guard combo (edging Tony Parker-Tim Duncan and Steve Nash-Marcin Gortat). But the team would still have a gaping hole at small forward, and with Howard in place Humphries would be mostly superfluous.
If Howard isn't going to happen as the days tick off the calendar, will Billy King look elsewhere for instant help? Lopez is a tricky guy to trade, despite sitting at the centerpiece of the Howard talks for so long. He'll be a restricted free agent in July, and should demand a high salary as an elite scoring center who can also block shots. (His overall defense is just OK, and his rebounding is atrocious.) New Jersey should be willing to risk everything to keep Williams, but who will bite? How much can the Nets get for their own first-round pick and the protected Rockets pick (non-lottery this year) they own?
SALARY CAP SITUATION
The Nets are sitting at a salary level of $60 million per ShamSports.com, just above the cap, which restricts the team's ability to take on much extra salary in a trade. The team amazingly has just $9 million committed for 2012-13 -- that's Miami 2010 commitment -- meaning that the Nets could conceivably sell Williams and Howard on a Big Three put together in July instead of swinging a trade now. That idea carries just a bit more risk, however.