Deron Williams' first choice is to stay with the Nets and to build something special in Brooklyn, but if it doesn't work out with his current team, his short list of desirable destinations includes the Mavericks, the Knicks and the Lakers, according to sources close to the situation.
While the league's post-lockout trade buzz has been centered on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, little attention has been paid to Williams, who like Howard can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season.
Williams has publicly stated his desire to re-sign with the Nets, and New Jersey, which views him as a building block for next season's move to Brooklyn, has refused to entertain potential trades involving Williams. Yet both sides know their future together is tied to Howard.
If the Nets are able to obtain Howard, either through a trade before the March 15 deadline or in free agency this summer, Williams will re-sign. If Howard goes elsewhere, Williams is likely to leave New Jersey, according to the sources.
So if Orlando trades Howard before the deadline to a team he plans to re-sign with after the season, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets will begin exploring trades for Williams, a source said. The Nets, however, will not consider trading Williams until obtaining Howard is no longer a possibility because the club believes it has a great chance of teaming the two together in Brooklyn, if not this season.
If Howard does go elsewhere, the Nets will be faced with the same dilemma New Orleans faced in moving Paul -- finding a trade partner that Williams will sign with long term because few, if any, teams will be willing to part with major assets for a two-month rental. So Williams will have a large say in where he winds up.
Williams has grown to enjoy living in New York and he is excited about the off-the-court business opportunities the city provides, so if Howard doesn't join him with the Nets, he would love to remain in New York and play for the Knicks, sources said. While no trade talks have taken place between the clubs, the Knicks could theoretically offer either Carmelo Anthony or Amare Stoudemire, thus giving the Nets a superstar to lead them to Brooklyn.
When asked about the report Saturday morning, Williams said he didn't know anything about the list.
"Did you hear it from me?" Williams asked. "We don't need to talk about it then. Another one of these sources. Sources. I don't know who sources are."
A native of Dallas, Williams is also fond of the idea of playing for the Mavericks. Dallas lacks the pieces to pull off a trade, but if Williams becomes a free agent and the Nets don't get Howard, the Mavericks, who will have enough cap room to offer him a maximum contract, are his likeliest landing spot, a source said.
Then there are the Lakers. Williams likes Los Angeles and lives in nearby San Diego during the offseason. Before the season began, the three teams on his wish list were New Jersey, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers, according to sources. But with the Clippers having traded for Paul, playing there is no longer a possibility.
The Lakers would find it difficult to acquire Williams because they will not have cap room in the summer, and they lack the promising young prospects the Nets would look for in return.
If the Nets' nightmare scenario comes to pass and they don't get Howard, sources said they will not trade Williams for marginal players merely to avoid losing him for nothing in free agency. If Williams walks, the Nets will be left with enough cap room to sign two high-salaried players, which they view as a better option than eating up their cap space with average talent.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from ESPNNewYork.com regular contributor Mike Mazzeo was used in this report.