Nets fans should have known it was too good to be true. A franchise littered with lowlights and saddled with one of the league's most apathetic fan bases suddenly becoming a prime destination for the best players in the world? Crazy, right?
We've heard whispers for months that Dwight Howard was planning to jump ship from Orlando to the New Jersey Nets, joining stud point guard Deron Williams. On the court, the move would have made little sense for Howard, but supposedly the allure of the Nets 2012-2013 move to Brooklyn had hooked the league's best center. With Howard's announcement Thursday that he's staying in Orlando for another year, Magic fans are ecstatic, David Stern breathed for the first time in weeks and the hapless Nets are left at the altar again.
You can put lipstick on a pig but the pig still can't jump . This was the Nets biggest mistake in their pursuit of Howard and NBA respectability: New Jersey's management tried to take the easy way out. They thought that a billionaire Russian owner, Jay-Z and Brooklyn would hide their fatally flawed roster. If the Nets had ONE player besides Williams on their current team that the Magic desired, then Howard would be in Newark right now.
Unfortunately, the mistakes in New Jersey are becoming increasingly common in today's NBA. The Nets have drafted terribly for the last five years and made too many free agent mistakes to count. Rather than trying to build their team up the right way, they tried to go the "super-team" route. You would have thought they learned their lesson after whiffing on LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Boozer two summers ago, but no.
Maybe part of the reason Howard decided to stay was that there's little precedent for these superstar combos actually working. All he needs to do is look to across the Hudson to see the fireball of fail that is the New York Knickerbockers. Even the Heat's transition has been rocky and that's a more talented trio than anything the Nets could realistically put together. The two best teams in the league at the moment, the Bulls and the Thunder, were built through the draft, not crazy free agent bonanzas.
It may sound odd to tell the Nets to not swing for the fences, but that should be their strategy for now. Brooklyn is a nice selling point, Mikhail Prokhorov and H.O.V.A should bring some spark back to the franchise, and if they can somehow convince Williams to stay, they'll have a building block for the future. The Nets are the geek who just lost 35 pounds and his acne. Don't go for the hottest cheerleader right away, build up some confidence and try again later.
Unfortunately it seems the Nets are doomed to repeat their mistakes once more. Hours after Howard announced his plan to stay in Orlando, they traded their first round pick to Portland for 30-year old swingman Gerald Wallace, a move that makes less sense by the minute. Odds are Wallace doesn't pan out and Williams bolts for Dallas this summer, leaving the Nets with no stars and no picks. But hey, LeBron is a free agent again in 2013!.
Follow Thomas Alter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tommy_alter23