An NBA arms race has broken out on both sides of the Hudson River, pitting billionaire against multimillionaire, franchise against franchise, and superstar against superstar(s).
On Monday the New York Knicks snatched Carmelo Anthony in a major trade, frustrating the New Jersey Nets, who had spent months pursuing him. But before Anthony could slip on his Knicks jersey, the Nets answered in kind, and boldly.
In a deal that shocked the league, the Nets obtained Deron Williams, one of the game's best point guards, from the Utah Jazz. The trade is a tremendous boost for the Nets, who badly needed a franchise star to build around as they prepare to move to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season.
"I'm excited because Deron Williams I feel is the best point guard in the NBA," said Billy King, the Nets' general manager. "And when you want to try to win, you need a point guard and a center. I think we have two of the best."
The deal presents a risk because Williams has the ability to terminate his contract after next season. But Nets officials seem confident he will stay and spearhead the franchise's move to Brooklyn.
"I don't look at it as a risk," King said. "We could sign him to an extension this summer. We know it. He knows it."
In exchange for Williams, 26, the Nets are sending Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks to Utah, a package similar to what the Nets had offered Denver for Anthony. The Jazz will receive the Nets' 2011 pick and Golden State's 2012 pick.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets' billionaire owner, gleefully boasted last weekend that he drove up the price on Anthony. The Knicks won the bidding war but had to part with four key players and three draft picks.
The Nets have a long way to go, but Prokhorov might have the last laugh. Williams is a fantastic scorer and playmaker and a solid defender who led Utah to the playoffs the last four years, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2007.
Williams has been among the top three in assists per game for the last five seasons and is considered, along with Chris Paul, to be one of the league's best point guards. He is averaging 21.3 points, a career high, and 9.7 assists this season.
The deal came together quickly, starting with a conversation between King and Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz general manager, on Tuesday, according to King. Twenty-four hours later, it was done.
"He's definitely not a Plan B," coach Avery Johnson said. "He's a Plan A also."
Johnson lauded Williams' presence, saying, "There's a fear factor when you play against those guys." He added, "We felt we needed to get somebody that gives us that."
The trade comes two weeks after Utah's legendary coach, Jerry Sloan, retired amid reports of a rift with Williams. Although Williams has voiced his discontent at times with Utah's direction, there was no hint the Jazz was about to trade him.
The NBA's trading deadline is Thursday at 1 p.m., Mountain time. Williams is expected to make his Nets debut Friday, when New Jersey opens a two-game trip in San Antonio.
Williams' potential free agency in 2012 could become a stress point for the Nets, and an opportunity for the Knicks, who already had Williams as a target. Williams is not eligible for a contract extension until July — after the current collective bargaining agreement expires — so the Nets cannot immediately lock him up, as the Knicks did with Anthony.
But the new labor deal could make it easier to keep Williams, if it includes a franchise tag or new financial incentives for free agents to stay with their teams. Both concepts have been discussed.
If, as expected, the new labor deal is more restrictive, it could also motivate Williams not to opt out of his contract. He is due to earn $17.8 million in 2012-13.
The Knicks (28-26) have two stars — Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire — and a clear path to the playoffs this spring. The Nets (17-40) have much more work to do, but Williams will accelerate their progress.
By the time the Nets are ready to move to Brooklyn, the city's two franchises could be battling for the next elite player. Dwight Howard can become a free agent in 2012.
Prokhorov, according to King, was ecstatic with the Williams acquisition, and presumably pleased to steal some of the Knicks' thunder.
"Can't worry about their thunder," King said.
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