Why Superman-ia Can’t Resemble the Melo Drama

To quote one of our era’s great philosophers – “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

As a long-suffering fan of a franchise that had historically played the meekish red-headed stepchild to the Broadway New York Knicks, I can’t deny how much I appreciate the bravado of the Nets’ current regime. You know it’s the dawn of a new era of Nets basketball when a bitter lockout has ended and less than 24 hours later, the Nets are the top headline-makers in the NBA with their rumored pitch to Orlando: give us your poor, tired, and over-extended assets (and Dwight Howard), and we’ll throw you a lifeline that might enable your franchise to remake itself into a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team for the next decade.

The proposed trade that would send Brook Lopez and draft picks to the Magic for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu makes sense for many reasons. It gives the Nets organization it’s second coveted “star” to build around alongside Deron Williams as the team makes its move to Brooklyn in 2012. It enables the Magic the gracefully get rid of its star and some toxic contracts, while acquiring some decent rebuilding assets in exchange. The Nets are really the only team with both the assets and the cap space available to pull this trade off before the free agency period starts. And Orlando is likely to not get a better offer elsewhere, even if Howard would rather suit up with the Lakers or the Mavericks.

Where have I heard this all before?

A year ago at this time – well last preseason at least, which is more like 13 months ago at this point – I was convinced that Carmelo Anthony was going to be a Net. The Nets had the assets, the cap space, and the interest of the Denver Nuggets to pull off a trade. Despite the protestations of the Knicks, a deal built around Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and draft picks was more enticing than what the Duh Mecca’s had to offer. The only snag in the deal was: what did Anthony actually want? – not to mention Denver’s insistence to wait until the trade deadline to milk every last asset from the Nets while dumping every toxic contract they could find on New Jersey’s doorstep. The end result was a half-season of utter turmoil for Nets in a year where the team was trying to change its identity and create an organization of stability and optimism. While the acquisition of Deron Williams certainly polished the turd that was the first half of the 2010-11 season, there’s no question that the preceding months of Melo Drama was agonizing for both Nets players and its fans. In an effort to march into a new era, the organization did its best to alienate many of its hardcore supporters, who just wanted someone to show a backbone and either move away from the table, or admit that a path to relevancy cannot be laid so simply.

I can only hope that lessons were learned by Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King. Simply put, history cannot be allowed to repeat itself with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Clearly, acquiring Superman is the fastest path to Eastern Conference relevancy. A team of D-Will and Howard, along with complimentary pieces like Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Damion James, would be better than the Knicks and could be enough to overcome the Bulls, Celtics and Heat atop the Eastern Conference.  But these rumors cannot be allowed to linger beyond the beginning of the 2011-12 free agency period next week. As currently constituted, the trade proposed is one that needs to be completed here and now. No wait-and-see from Orlando for better draft picks. No text messaging from Howard to find out if there’s a way Kobe or Dirk can use their clout to get Superman into their respective cities. The Nets, Magic, and most importantly, Howard, need to agree to a deal now or back away from the table – for good. Otherwise, the Nets could potentially forego an opportunity to dramatically improve the organization through free agency and other, under-the-radar trades, and instead resemble the Knicks – who will probably only be offering one-year deals to marginal players, and finding ways to shed cap space in order to make a pipedream free agency run at Chris Paul next summer.

The Dallas Mavericks proved last summer that to win a championship you don’t need multiple superstars in their prime. You just need one and some extraordinary complimentary pieces. Some of those players could be available to the Nets next week. Imagine the defensive presence Tyson Chandler would add to the Nets frontcourt. Or picture how much open space there will be on the court if both Morrow and free agent sharpshooter Jamal Crawford are getting playing time alongside Lopez and DWill. And what if there’s another all-star out there waiting for a trade that none of us are even talking about? Did any Nets fans at this point last year think Williams would be on the team by late February?

Don’t take my words of caution as aversion to a Howard deal. The Nets absolutely must make this deal if all parties agree to it. If Orlando needs additional incentive (i.e. additional players), you send them. A core of Williams and Howard is strong enough to still be competitive even if the Nets have to pilfer the NBA’s scrap heap for role players, plus I’m sure there are quite a few NBA players out there who would take less money for a chance to compete with the best PG/C duo in the NBA.

But it’s because the proposed deal makes too much sense that I urge a decision to be made quickly and painlessly. The Nets cannot resume these conversations again in January and February after already deciding what to do with their amnesty clause and already committing to other players during free agency, thus limiting their available cap space. It is the financial flexibility allowed at this stage of the preseason that makes this deal so perfect. If it can’t come together now, it wasn’t meant to be. And after predicting that was the case with Carmelo Anthony a year ago, I hope the Nets front office has the stones to admit to fans that it’s now or never with Howard and that there’s a legitimate “Plan B” to build a contender in Brooklyn that doesn’t involve endless headlines circulating around trade rumors for the same player.

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