Dwight Howard Or Not, Nets Will Be A Force In Brooklyn Debut

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 20: Deron Williams #8 and Anthony Morrow #22 of the New Jersey Nets react during the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Landing Dwight Howard would be nice. But without him, the Brooklyn Nets are on track to make a huge splash in 2012-13 thanks to a number of moves by Billy King. The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

We're still hanging out on the runway at Dwight Howard Trade International. I imagine this is how people trying to surf Lake Michigan feel. You just wait and wait and wait and wait and surely someday the waves will finally come. The Howard saga drags on as the Orlando Magic abandoned exclusive talks with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday and invited the Houston Rockets and others to the game. At least the Carmelo Anthony trade saga had basketball to distract us. At least the Denver Nuggets had a coach willing to criticize his exiting star. Orlando canned the most entertaining thing it had in Stan Van Gundy.

While we wait, the Nets apparently have decided to move on. As planned, they signed Deron Williams to his max deal at the stroke of midnight ET Wednesday. Reports say they are working on a very lucrative deal with Brook Lopez. They have acquired Joe Johnson, retained Gerald Wallace and imported Mirza Teletovic. The New York Post's Fred Kerber reports that the team is no longer desperate to grab Howard, and you know what? They shouldn't be.

While Howard would make the team even better -- essentially, Brooklyn would be upgrading from Lopez, a neat scorer, decent defender and poor rebounder, to Howard, an elite scorer, elite defender and elite rebounder -- the Nets should still be one of the East's best this season. Mike Prada has already justified the J.J. trade by noting the power vacuum in the East behind the Miami Heat, but it's quite possible that there's no conditional support for Brooklyn's strategy needed. The Nets could be a legitimately excellent team.

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Williams' Nets tenure hasn't had much success: New Jersey went 25-42 in games D-Will appeared in since the 2011 trade from the Utah Jazz. But Lopez missed basically all of last season, and there was truly little else usable on the roster. Just getting Lopez back full-time would be a huge bonus. Shelden Williams and Johan Petro played a combined 2,200 minutes at center last season. They have career PERs of 12.5 and 10.3, respectively. Lopez's career PER is 19.2, and his production skyrocketed in the 2010-11 season once Williams was acquired.

Then there's Johnson, a self-contained scorer-creator who can also defend and set up teammates a little bit. Johnson will not only take offensive pressure off of Williams, but he'll allow MarShon Brooks (assuming the kid isn't traded in a Howard deal) to better find a spot where he can excel off of the bench. Tyshawn Taylor, a rookie, will potentially fill in ball-handling gaps behind the Williams-Johnson-Brooks troika, as well.

Wallace is famously slowing down, but the fact remains that he is not DeShawn Stevenson (almost 1,000 minutes last season). Last season, the Nets were 2.4 points per 48 minutes better when Wallace was on the court compared to when he was not. They were 3.1 points per 48 minutes better when Stevension was off the court compared to when he was on. That difference is not insignificant.

Then there's Teletovic, the Bosnian forward who could either end up starting at power forward or backing up Wallace at the three. (Reggie Evans, an ace defender, is the other current potential starter at power forward. Incumbent Kris Humphries is an unrestricted free agent. He could in theory be retained, too.) He's been one of the best scorers in Europe, and he figures to add another dimension to the Nets offense with his shooting ability and size. Teletovic could end up as the surprise star of Brooklyn's season if he develops quick rapport with his point guard.

I'll understand if you look at the Nets' record over Williams' tenure and remain skeptical of the team's ability to shake off the losing history and become a real NBA force. But this really is a completely new team, and the jolt of excitement from playing in a shiny new gym in New York City won't be lost on any of them. Williams signing that contract on his iPad has begun a new era for Nets basketball, and the dawn is bright ... even without Dwight.

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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