The New Jersey Nets traded for Deron Williams Wednesday morning, shocking the NBA community in nabbing the star point guard from the Utah Jazz. Williams, who won't turn 27 until June, ranks among the league's best point guards. An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, Williams is averaging 20.2 points and 9.2 assists this season, and the Nets landed him for rookie power forward Derrick Favors, veteran point guard Devin Harris, and two future first-round draft choices.
Once word of the trade spread, Magic fans inundated me, via Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of various OPP posts, with questions along the lines of, "Why couldn't the Magic do this deal?" The answer is pretty simple.
Compare what Orlando might be able to offer with what Utah actually received from New Jersey. The most similar package consists of Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass, with Malik Allen added to make the trade legal for salary-matching purposes. Now, Nelson isn't too far off Harris' caliber: he averages 12.2 points and 6.3 assists to Harris' 15 and 7.6, he's barely a year older, and makes roughly $1 million less per year. He's not really the issue.
And yes, Bass tops Favors. There's no question he's the better player. The issue, with comparing these two, is age: Bass will turn 26 before the season ends, while Favors is still 19. Thus, the third pick of this year's NBA draft has more value to a rebuilding team--and trading Williams signals the Jazz's intentions to rebuild--than the veteran Bass.
Further, the Nets sent their own 2011 first-round pick to Utah in the trade, as well as the Golden State Warriors' 2012 first-rounder. Here's where New Jersey's offer clearly trumps anything Orlando could have done. The Magic sent their own 2011 first-rounder to the Phoenix Suns in December as part of the massive deal that netted them Jason Richadson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark. Plus, they don't have any other teams' picks to offer. The best the Magic could have done is to include their 2013 first-rounder in an offer for Williams.
In sum, New Jersey's offer includes a slightly better point guard, a stud prospect at power forward, and two future draft selections; its package tops anything the Magic could have put together on every front.
Orlando does not have the assets to acquire a player of Williams' caliber via trade, and the long-term deals of Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas make signing a star free agent--like Williams or Chris Paul--in 2012 extremely unlikely, barring a swift, stunning, and drastic roster overhaul. It's unfair to somehow blame the Magic for not getting this deal done. Were acquiring Williams as simple as packaging Nelson, Bass, and Allen together, they would have done it.