Nets Bringing Players to Brooklyn to Reverse Losing Tradition

The Brooklyn Nets are trying to create a culture of winning from the novelty of a new arena, city and logo.

The Nets agreed to acquire six-time National Basketball Association All-Star guard Joe Johnson and bring back point guard and Brooklyn native Deron Williams, who agreed to a five-year $98 million contract, ESPN reported. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard remains a possibility to join the club as it moves to its new home, the network said.

The Nets spent the past 35 years in New Jersey, losing almost 500 games more than they won. A new arena and redesigned logo won’t be enough to make the move a success unless the team, owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, ends the Eastern Conference’s longest playoff drought, according to Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College.

“A new stadium or arena doesn’t generate revenue, it generates potential revenue,” Zimbalist said yesterday in a telephone interview. “You’ll get fans in the seats for the first few weeks just out of curiosity, but in order to keep the revenue, you have to have a good product on the court.”

The Nets will play at the Barclays Center, part of a $4.9 billion, 22-acre project next to Brooklyn’s main public transportation hub. The franchise has new uniforms with a black and white color scheme, further distancing itself from its New Jersey era, when red, white and blue predominated.

“Before, we had to have brochures and video of, ‘This is what it’s going to be when we’re in Brooklyn,”’ Nets General Manager Billy King said last week. “Now we can take them there. It’s a reality now and I think it’s going to be great for the people of Brooklyn and our fan base. It’s going to be great for our players to be part of something special.”

Missing Playoffs

The Nets, 22-44 in their final New Jersey season, haven’t made the playoffs since losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2007 and haven’t played in the NBA Finals since 2002 and 2003. They are tied with the Golden State Warriors for third-longest playoff absence in the NBA, behind the Sacramento Kings’ six years and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ eight.

“There’s potentially a very large return when you can synchronize a new facility and an exciting team,” Zimbalist said.

Johnson, 31, averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds last season with the Hawks. Atlanta will receive the expiring contracts of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Williams in the deal, along with DeShawn Stevenson and a lottery-protected first-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft, according to ESPN. Deals can’t be formally finished or announced until July 11.

Williams Talks

In the past two years, the Nets were mentioned as a possible destination for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, All-Stars who wound up elsewhere -- James with the Miami Heat, Anthony with the New York Knicks. The addition of Johnson may help the Nets in their negotiations with Williams, according to ESPN.

Williams, 28, finished in the NBA’s top five assist leaders in each of the last six seasons. Last year he led the Nets with 21 points and 8.7 assists a game and was named to the All-Star Game for the third time in his career.

He became an unrestricted free agent on July 1 when he opted out of the final season of a four-year, $70 million contract he signed with the Utah Jazz in 2008.

Williams put a Nets logo on his Twitter site last night accompanied by his message: “Made a very difficult decision today.”

Howard Target

The Nets are also in trade talks for the 6-foot-11 Howard, a six-time All-Star center who led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, according to ESPN. Yahoo Sports reported yesterday that the Magic hadn’t received an offer that made the team consider trading Howard, who becomes a free agent after the 2012-13 season.

The ceiling on NBA payrolls places an emphasis on team chemistry in addition to talent, Zimbalist said. It also limits the amount that owners can spend on their teams. The cap for the 2011-12 season was $58 million and hasn’t been set yet for 2012-13. Any cap will also include exceptions for certain contracts and penalties for exceeding payroll limits.

Johnson is due $90 million over the next four years, and the team agreed to terms last week with All-Star forward Gerald Wallace on a four-year, $40 million contract, according to ESPN. The Nets can offer Williams a five-year, $100 million deal, the maximum allowable under the league’s labor agreement. That’s one year and $25 million more than the Mavericks can offer.

Nets Versus Knicks

The Nets’ move may start a rivalry with the Knicks, who are coming off a playoff season in which point guard Jeremy Lin helped bring buzz back to Midtown Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, the self-labeled “world’s most famous arena,” Zimbalist said.

“When they were out in New Jersey, the Nets had calcified secondary status,” Zimbalist said. “Moving into Brooklyn, moving into this exciting new arena, they are in a position now to make a much bigger dent in the New York sporting culture.”

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