EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Nets general manager Billy King vehemently denied rumors Wednesday that he was in trade discussions with the Orlando Magic regarding All-Star center Dwight Howard.
“I’ll go on the record that I haven’t talked to Orlando about a trade since February, right before the trade deadline,” King said at a press conference at the team’s practice facility. “I have not had any conversations at all with my good friend Otis (Smith, the Magic general manager).
“So, I don’t know where that is coming from.”
There were published reports which stated the Nets were in talks with the Magic about trading two first-round draft picks and center Brook Lopez in return for Howard, who is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent next June.
King also promised that if a trade does happen involving any Nets, it won’t be a long, drawn-out process like the three-month pursuit of Carmelo Anthony was last season. Several Nets were subjected to daily rumors throughout the early part of last season and Anthony eventually ended up landing with the Knicks.
“There will not be a circus atmosphere like we had last year,” King said. “It won’t happen. I promise you. There will be no leaks coming from this organization, no rumors being thrown around. There are steps that we’re going to take to prevent that from happening again. Any thoughts will be inside my head and nowhere else. It’s not fair and it’s not right to the players involved. The conversations I have with others shouldn’t go outside my office, because it becomes unfair to the players.”
King spoke to the media with the thought that the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement had yet to be ratified, so he could not speak about things like the new salary cap and potential free agent signings.
But King was allowed to speak to representatives of the free agents, beginning Wednesday at 9 a.m. In fact, he had several discussions, most notably with Marc Cornstein, the agent for forward Kris Humphries, who is a free agent after enjoying a breakthrough season with New Jersey last year.
“I’ve had quite a few conversations with agents and had some good conversations,” King said. “I’d say we’re making progress. When you have the potential for cap space as we have, I would expect to have conversations.”
However, no firm contract offers can be made until the CBA is officially ratified and the players return to work Dec. 9, when the lockout will officially end.
Some players are expected to return to their respective teams for weight training and unsupervised workouts as early as Thursday. King did not know when any of the Nets were slated to return.
“We have some spots that we have to fill,” King said. “I would say our priority has to be signing some bigs (power forwards or centers). That’s where we’re focused right now. I’m sure we’ll add some pieces to the puzzle and upgrade the roster.”
Another key will be if the team can get All-Star point guard Deron Williams to agree to a contract extension. Williams, acquired last year in a trade deadline deal with Utah, is slated to become a free agent, like Howard, at the end of the current season.
King said that he spoke with Jeff Schwartz, Williams’ new agent, on Wednesday.
“We’ve had conversation with Deron’s reps,” King said. “They represent other players as well, so we’ve had conversations about Deron and others.”
King is still confident he can convince Williams to sign a long-term extension with the Nets, who move to Brooklyn and the new Barclays Center after the 2011-2012 season. King said that he wants to begin building toward a winning team now and doesn’t want to wait until the team moves, when a better crop of free agents will be available.
“We can’t have our eye on the future,” King said. “We have to have the eye on now. I can’t sit here and say we’re going to wait until the future, because you might not have the chance to finish out what you started. It’s all about winning now.
“The ultimate goal is the playoffs.”
King doesn’t think that it will be a tough sell in New Jersey, having a lame duck team heading elsewhere next season.
“I think we’ll put a product out that the fans will come out and see,” King said. “We’ll do some things marketing wise, like the 35th anniversary of the Nets in New Jersey, that will showcase the history of New Jersey basketball.”
King said that the shortened training camp won’t be a problem, because Avery Johnson will be in his second season as coach and three key players, Williams, Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines, are currently playing in Europe.
“It helps that three of our guys will be in game shape when they arrive,” King said. “Last year, everything was new to the entire team, but now, with Avery in his second year, the terminology will be the same and there will be a comfort level. We don’t have to worry about having a new coach.
“We’ll have two weeks, two preseason games and we’ll be ready to go.”
The NBA is pushing toward a Christmas Day season opener in a shortened 66-game schedule, but it is not known when the Nets would open.
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