Back then, the Nets were said to be uninterested. But in the aftermath of a disappointing second-round loss in five games to Miami, things may have changed.
Brian Geltzeiler of HoopsCritic.com reports that Williams and the Nets have a “pending divorce” and have mutually decided to look elsewhere.
“Sources have told HoopsCritic.com that this falling out between Williams and Nets management, specifically Nets GM Billy King, has resulted in a mutual decision between the two parties to split,” Geltzeiler wrote. “Williams, and his wife, essentially want out of Brooklyn and King is more than happy to accommodate them.”
Geltzeiler goes on in his story to list the Rockets as a possible destination.
“If Morey offers… the same package in the forthcoming offseason, I don’t think King will say no,” Geltzeiler wrote.
Williams isn’t likely to be on the front burner for the Rockets, who continue to search for a third star player to put around James Harden and Dwight Howard. The clear top priority would seem to be Carmelo Anthony, who unlike Williams, had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013-14 and still appears very much in his prime, statistically.
But the catch to the pursuit of Anthony or any other top free agent this summer, including Kyle Lowry, is that the Rockets would likely have to find a way to move both Asik and Lin, either through a sign-and-trade or to an outside destination for cap relief. Asik probably wouldn’t be a problem to move, but finding a home for Lin could be trickier, especially given his balloon payment to $15 million next season in real dollars (though his cap figure remains at $8.3 million).
If Morey is able to move Lin for cap relief, the Rockets would seemingly be all-in on Anthony or another prized free agent. But that’s far from a done deal and if such a move isn’t possible, the Rockets would appear to be left with three realistic options.
1.) Keep Lin on the roster and trade Asik, either for cap relief (allowing Houston to target a middle-of-the-pack free agent, not a max guy) or for a player under contract from another team. Sam Smith writes at NBA.com that the Hawks could be interested in starting Asik at center and moving Al Horford to power forward, a plan that could presumably make Atlanta’s current starter at power forward, Paul Millsap, a trade target for Houston (yet again).
2.) Keep both Lin and Asik on the roster going into next season. That would allow Houston to either trade Lin/Asik as expiring contracts near the February 2015 deadline to teams looking for cap relief, or simply let their contracts expire as Rockets after the 2014-15 season and attempt to use the savings in 2015 free agency. That class, of course, is headlined by Kevin Love.
3.) Go after Williams.
The highest upside of those three paths would seem to be No. 2, but it doesn’t come without risk. The Rockets cited injuries and a lack of continuity as being behind many of their inconsistencies in 2013-14, and delaying the arrival of the team’s next big piece would also defer the integration period with Harden and Howard. It also goes without saying that free agency offers no guarantees.
Williams, on the other hand, would be available this summer and ready for 2014 training camp — and Geltzeiler writes that the need to move Lin would not be a stumbling block.
“Most teams would find [the balloon] payment objectionable,” he said. “The Nets aren’t most teams. The Nets paid a record amount of luxury tax this season, and there are no indications that their billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has any interest in spending less.”
It’s not a slam-dunk decision for the Rockets, of course. Williams will soon be 30 years old, and the Nets are open to trading him for a reason. After all, Williams is coming off a season in which he posted his lowest PER (17.6) since his second year in the NBA and his fewest points (14.3) and assists (6.1) per game since his rookie year.
Additionally, Williams is owed $62 million over the next three years, which means that the Rockets would essentially be “capped out” for the remainder of Harden and Howard’s current contracts. They’d still have mid-level exceptions (MLE) each summer, but by and large, it would be an all-in move by Morey with the Harden/Howard/Williams trio.
The upside, though? It’s not as if Williams’ subpar season is part of a broader trend. In fact, his metrics in 2012-13 — just one year ago — were arguably his best ever in nine NBA seasons, especially on offense. And a case can certainly be made that injuries (Williams is planning offseason ankle surgery to clean up nagging issues) and the integration of newcomers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett into the Brooklyn offense played a role in his 2013-14 decline.
We know the Rockets have long been fans of the ex-Illinois point guard, including in 2011, when Houston made a strong bid for Williams before the Jazz ultimately dealt him to Brooklyn. The Rockets were also said to be interested in Williams again heading into his 2012 free agency.
We also know Howard has liked Williams, dating back to his “lists” when demanding a trade from Orlando in 2011 and 2012. Both times, Brooklyn — led by Williams — was at the top. And instead of spending another one of Howard’s dwindling prime years waiting on a trade or free agent that could be, a move for Williams would make the Rockets fully focused on the present and what is.
For his part, Williams is even a Texas native, having grown up in suburban Dallas, and would likely jump at the chance to play closer to home.
None of those factors is enough to vault Williams ahead of Anthony or immediate cap space as the Rockets’ offseason priority, of course. But any bigger pursuit also comes with a difficult question:
Can Morey move Lin for cap relief?
If the answer is no, the Williams scenario could very well be revisited as a fallback option.