On Sunday morning, at midnight on the button, the NBA free-agency period begins. This deadline is of mild interest for Knicks fans — though only if the Jeremy Lin–Steve Novak Bird rights thing holds up — but it is of paramount importance to the other team in town, those impending Brooklyn Nets. (Whose stadium construction is now going 24-7, by the way, in case you're in the area at 3 a.m. and can't sleep.) The Nets are still more a theoretical construct than an actual sports franchise, one that's in a little bit of danger of having only Gerald Wallace to open up their arena. There's a school of thought that if the Nets don't immediately grab the city's attention, they might never grab it. Which means the next ten days might be among the most important of the next decade. It's Deron Williams or bust.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Williams has narrowed his choices down to two teams: The Dallas Mavericks — which is still trying to figure out how to do a Williams/Dirk Nowitzki/Dwight Howard triumvirate over the next couple of years — and the Nets. The Nets' major advantage is that they can pay Williams more than anybody else. The Mavericks apparently have every other advantage: a better team, a more engaged ownership, and proximity to Williams' hometown. (He grew up in the Colony, which is about 30 miles from downtown Dallas.) But Williams enjoys the area — how couldn't he? New York City, right, everybody? — and has given more hope to the Nets than many had initially expected.
It's difficult to overstate how much trouble the Nets are in if Williams doesn't sign. If he doesn't return, they arguably have their worst team since that 70-loss team in 2009-10; they'll have Wallace and a gimpy Brook Lopez and no first-round draft pick. If Williams signs, they can start cobbling together packages for Dwight Howard or just build around Williams, who, after all, is one of the best players in the NBA. If he doesn't, this cupboard is almost frighteningly bare, with a new stadium opening and a potential fanbase looking to be impressed.
It's all about Deron Williams. The next ten days or so will tell us all that might matter for the Nets.
By the way, in other, less vital Nets news: Kris Humphries is begging to be brought back — the team has little interest — and, somewhat tragically, pretending he's going to be picked for the Olympic team. Oh, and Justin Bieber wore a Nets T-shirt on the Jimmy Fallon show on Friday, in case you weren't sick of the logo already.