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Like the rest of the NBA, the New Jersey Nets are working the phones in anticipation of the free-agent madness that will kick off on Dec. 9. The main goal of GM Billy King is to take whatever steps necessary to keep soon-to-be free agent point guard Deron Williams with the franchise long term.
Beyond simply signing players that will keep Williams happy right now, there is also the business of acquiring assets to use later this season when trying to obtain players in the trade market. That strategy is similar to what the franchise did last season by drafting Derrick Favors third overall. Favors ended up being the main chip that brought Williams to the Nets in a trade with the Utah Jazz.
Any way you look at it, there is a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time for a Nets team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
Here are the five things the Nets need to accomplish before opening the 2011-12 season.
1. Send Travis Outlaw Packing
This needs to be the first order of business because the only thing he is doing right now is sucking up a chunk of cap room and a roster spot for a player who can actually help the Nets make that push for the playoffs. Using the amnesty clause in the new CBA, the team will be able to cut ties with Outlaw simply by cutting a check for the $28 million (!!) he is owed.
The only way you keep Outlaw around is if there is a player (Hedo Turkoglu in a Dwight Howard trade, for example) that could join the roster during the season who would make more sense to use the one-time-only clause on.
2. Sign Someone To Rebound
Feel free to daydream about Howard, but the fact of the matter is this team cannot afford to wait around for that trade to happen. The Nets need to find a big-time rebounder to put in the lineup next to Brook Lopez right now. There are a lot of things the center does well, but rebounding is not one of them. With Williams at the point and Lopez down low, the Nets should be able to score, but they need a player who can clean up the boards.
The obvious names being thrown around are Nene, Tyson Chandler and David West. All three would fit the bill, but don't forget about Kris Humphries. Thanks to his turn as a reality TV star, people seem to have forgotten that he was one of the best rebounders in the NBA last season. Considering how much the "big name" players are going to cost, Humphries would be my preferred choice.
3. Don't Overpay In Free Agency
Speaking of what players will cost, King cannot simply throw around big money contracts just to prove the team is being active. That's what happened last year and the roster now has the likes of Outlaw and Johan Petro on the books.
With a less than stellar free agent class and needing to improve the roster enough to be a contender while holding onto cap room for a much better 2012 crop, we will get to see what King is made of. Showing some restraint when talking to the likes of Chandler won't make a lot of Nets fans happy -- or Williams for that matter -- but the team has to show some sort of fiscal responsibility until they have their point guard and another max-worthy player locked up.
4. Roll The Dice
In order to take a big step this season while following all the steps outlined above, the Nets will need to find help from an unlikely source. That could end up being first-round pick MarShon Brooks or second-year forward Damion James, but New Jersey should take a chance in free agency on a couple of other younger players who might help them turn the corner without breaking the bank.
Look in the direction of a guy like Detroit Pistons restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko. It's not a name you hear on the short list of many teams, but the 24-year-old 6-foot-10 forward from Sweden averaged 9.3 points and 6 rebounds per game as a rookie in 2009-10 before an Achilles injury in preseason knocked him out for all of last season. He's a restricted free agent that the Pistons want to keep, but it's worth kicking the tires.
It only takes hitting on one under the radar player to make an offseasson successful.
5. Contain The Circus
When he met with the media this week, King made it clear he was going to do all he could to prevent another round of daily trade rumors like Melo-Palooza.
"The circus-like atmosphere that was surrounding last season won’t happen this season, I promise you that," the GM said simply.
It makes for a good quote and allows King to give Lopez a little piece of mind, but the Dwight Howard Circus is in town and isn't going anywhere until the big man re-signs with the Magic or is traded. The key for the Nets will be to try and contain it as best they can so that it doesn't overshadow everything else they do.
Over time we've seen better teams pulled apart by this sort of drama and it can very quickly sabotage a season.