EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Nets general manager Bill King believes All-Star point guard Deron Williams will join the team in its new home in Brooklyn after exploring free agency this summer.
Speaking at a year-end wrapup five days after the Nets missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year, King sounded confident that he would be able to re-sign Williams after the 27-year-old opts out of the final year of his contract.
“I feel pretty good,” King said. “I haven’t wavered all year in my thought process with this. I think he and I understand what I’ve got to do and where we’ve got to get to. The goal is to win. The goal is to not be talking to you this early in the year in the spring. If we can come back with our core and add to that, I think we have a great shot to be playing postseason basketball next year.”
Heading into the offseason, King has four players under contract for next season — rookie guard MarShon Brooks, rookie forward Jordan Williams, backup center Johan Petro and shooting guard Anthony Morrow.
Starting center Brook Lopez is a restricted free agent. Power forward Kris Humphries is unrestricted and forward Gerald Wallace has a player option to decide whether to stay with the Nets (22-44).
“Obviously, Deron and Gerald Wallace are key pieces that we would like back in the fold. (And) Brook Lopez,” said King, who also wants to re-sign Gerald Green, who averaged almost 13 points after coming out of the developmental league. “They are major, big-time free agents, and you add Humphries in there as a starting four.
“So, you look at those guys and I didn’t do it in any order. I’m just trying to think as you go through the 11 in my head. But those four, I think, are core pieces that you’ve got to look to build with going forward.”
Williams seemingly is the one they can’t let slip away as the team move to the new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. He is the face of the organization at this point, the one guy who can be used to convince new fans to support the team.
The problem is convincing Williams to stay. He has said he will opt out of the final year of a contract that will pay him $17.8 million next season to test the free agent market.
Williams wants to play for a team that can win a title. The Nets believe they are building a contender and have the added attraction of a state-of-the art facility that King believes will be the best in the league.
King said the Nets could survive in Brooklyn without Williams, who led the team by averaging 21 points, 8.7 assists and 36.3 minutes. But clearly, having him there is better than not.
“Anytime you have a guy that I consider to be the best point guard in the league, it makes my job a lot easier, it makes Avery’s (Johnson) job a lot easier,” King said. “It makes everybody else’s job easier, so yes.”
The 30-year-old Wallace, who was acquired from Portland at the trading deadline, would be the other big get for King. The veteran refused to say whether he would opt-in to play for the Nets next season, but King indicated that Wallace also would test the free agency market by not opting in on the final year of his contract by June 13.
King realizes this might be the last chance for Wallace to get a big contract, and he told him he deserves it.
“Our goal is to get him to the point where we’re comfortable with the numbers, he’s comfortable with the numbers,” King said, “and we keep him in the fold.”
King said the Nets would be aggressive in free agency, one way or the other.
“We have cap space,” he said. “We have the potential to create more cap space, so the flexibility is there, and I think the greatest thing we have is a brand-new building that’s gonna be the best in the NBA. We’re in Brooklyn, so all of these things, it’s different than the last two summers in the offseason, because now you’re not talking, ‘hey, here’s the pictures of the Barclays Center. Come look at it.’”
King doesn’t feel extra pressure taking the team to Brooklyn and producing a winner immediately for owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
“People say, ‘Is there pressure because Mikhail said we’re gonna win a championship in five years?’” King said. “No! That’s a great goal. I’d rather have an owner saying that than ‘Don’t lose me money.’ You know? There’s some guys who own teams that don’t (care). All they care about is they don’t want to lose money.
“We’ve got one that wants to win a championship. It’s my job to try to help get the pieces and help Avery.”
King felt Johnson did an outstanding job coaching the team in a lockout-marred season that saw Lopez limited to five games by injuries. And King has not talked to Johnson about possible changes to the coaching staff.
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