As their roster currently stands, it seems unlikely that the 8-21 Nets will find their way into the playoffs. Of course, the team has been linked to Dwight Howard for quite some time and they are reportedly one of three clubs on the center's list. While some pundits and fans expect Howard to wind up in New Jersey before the trade deadline, it's also possible that the Magic strike a deal elsewhere or even decide to roll the dice and hang on to their superstar.
If that's the case, the Nets could head into the summer and try to retain Deron Williams while also pursuing Howard. Alternatively, they could consider shopping Williams prior to the trade deadline. Even though Billy King & Co. gave up an awful lot to land the point guard, it may be in their best interest to trade him if they don't feel confident in their ability to keep him beyond this season.
With his deal set to expire at the end of the year, Williams could put the kibosh on any swap by refusing to agree to a contract extension. While that could hurt the Nets' leverage, trading an elite point guard will always bring a solid return. So what are some potential landing spots?
The Lakers could certainly use a playmaker of Williams' caliber and they showed before the start of the season in their ill-fated talks for Chris Paul that they're willing to give up real value for a top one-guard. If Paul was worth both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to Mitch Kupchak, he'd likely pay close to that to put Williams alongside Kobe Bryant. If a third team can be brought in to provide the Nets with draft picks and long-term value, a proposal which gives them Gasol and subtracts Johan Petro's contract could be a good starting point.
The other obvious destination for Williams would be the Mavericks as the guard spent his formative years in The Colony, Texas, just 30 miles of Dallas. However, the Mavs also have a dearth of young talent and it's hard to imagine the club putting together an attractive package for the Nets on their own. Dallas could try to ply pieces away from a third party to pair with the expiring contract of Jason Terry, but they wouldn't feel compelled to do so unless Williams appears to be bound for another team.
Things should improve for the Nets in the short-term with Brook Lopez set to return from injury in the coming weeks. However, the club's on-court play over the next month won't have much bearing on Williams' trade candidacy. For the Nets to feel confident in their ability to hold on to the point guard, they'll have to demonstrate that they have the vision and means to compete beyond 2012.