The clock is ticking for the Nets' estimable point guard, who dropped 38 on the Knicks on Monday night. He has a chance to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, which everyone expects him to do. The conventional wisdom has him ticketed for Dallas.
Most of the talk about the Nets' future has centered on their desire to get Dwight Howard, who would team with Williams as a formidable 1-2 punch as the franchise moves to Brooklyn. There has been less said about the future of the player the Nets already have.
One person in the Nets organization who is not directly connected to negotiations with Williams offered his opinion on the star's intentions, saying he doesn't think there's any chance the guard stays with New Jersey. He also thought the team would be wise to come to grips with that and trade him before the March 15 deadline.
If Williams is available, and you're the Celtics, don't you dust off the Chris Paul trade folder and go hard for him? You'd have to part with Rajon Rondo and someone else (Jermaine O'Neal fits neatly from a cap standpoint) to get the deal done. But it's worth it if you're the Celtics.
Here are a few points to ponder, with the caveat that all bets are off if New Jersey somehow manages to pry Howard away in the next few weeks:
Would the Nets even go for a deal? Williams hasn't given any indication he will be a Net till his last dying day (apologies to Stephen Sondheim). He's sort of biding his time to see if Howard is coming north. But if this scenario is still in play on March 15, don't you have to trade him if you're the Nets?
New Jersey gave up a boatload to get Williams (Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-rounders) and would look foolish to let him leave and get nothing back. The Nets would look even worse if they said they'd recoup the loss in free agency, given their underwhelming performance in the summer of 2010, when they had all this money and ended up with the since-amnestied Travis Outlaw.
If it gets to the Ides of March and Howard is not in New Jersey, there are sure to be many trade offers flowing for Williams. In Rondo, the Nets would be getting an All-Star-caliber point guard who is two years younger than Williams and who has three years left on his contract. Yes, he can be high maintenance (see this past Sunday and the resulting two-game suspension), but he's still one of the top point guards in the league. O'Neal's contract would come off the books at the end of the season. The Nets might not be able to say they got 100 cents on the dollar, but they could say they got 80-90 cents back and thus save some face.
Would the Celtics be able to sell Boston over Dallas? It has been widely presumed that the Mavericks have had Williams (and Howard) in their crosshairs since owner Mark Cuban allowed a number of key players to leave from last season's title team. In not re-signing Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler, the Mavericks will have cap room this summer.
But will they have enough to sign Williams and Howard to max deals? Right now, the answer is no. They have committed more than $41 million to five players for 2012-13 and it's going to take probably $30 million or more to sign both players out of free agency. The cap was at $58.044 million this season.
Cuban has a reputation for taking care of his players, but so do the Celtics. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki. Boston has Paul Pierce. Dallas has weather. Boston has tradition. Both teams could argue that they'd bring back key guys for less money going forward; Ray Allen and maybe Kevin Garnett for Boston and Jason Terry and possibly Jason Kidd for Dallas.
As far as the money is concerned -- and that's always big -- Williams could get more if he re-signed with his own team rather than in free agency. The same applies to Howard. That would be a selling point for Boston (or any team trying to acquire him). The Celtics would then be able to go to Howard with an open checkbook next summer because they would have about $36 million to $38 million committed in salaries. Could they persuade Howard to play with Williams, Pierce, perhaps Jeff Green and who knows who else?
The Celtics cannot make the deal without getting a guarantee going forward from Williams. They'd be crazy to surrender Rondo only to see Williams walk. They made sure Garnett signed an extension before agreeing to acquire him and they'd have to do the same with Williams. As would any team.
Would Howard want Boston? Trying to get a read on what Howard is thinking is like trying to get through "The Sound and the Fury." And with no Spark Notes. Orlando is in the same position as New Jersey regarding holding on to Howard vs. trading him. At the end of the day, would the Magic deal him to L.A.? Somewhere else? Take their chances in re-signing him? Howard would be a rather large "second shoe to drop" if he made it clear he wants to play with Williams.
Would Williams want to go home? Williams also is presumed to be interested in Dallas because he's from the area. He went to high school in The Colony, a Dallas suburb, which is also home to Pizza Hut's national headquarters. While going home can be problematic (see Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson), it is supposedly a major lure for Williams. With Kidd's deal expiring, Williams would seem to be a seamless fit at the point guard position.
But he'd be a good fit for the Celtics, too. Why not Boston? Just asking.
Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.