The Nets cleared a ton of cap space last summer for a shot at a big-ticket free agent, but were left overpaying for Travis Outlaw when everyone signed with other teams.
They spent most of the first half chasing Carmelo Anthony before watching him wind up across the Hudson at Madison Square Garden. They wound up with a pretty nice consolation prize in Deron Williams, although his acquisition didn't come with the contract extension that guaranteed he'd be a building block for the long term.
With a move to Brooklyn looming and lots of tickets to sell in a town long dominated by the Knicks, the Nets need Williams to be fully committed to the team to sell themselves as something other than the same old Nets. Enter Dwight Howard.
In order to get Williams to stay around, the Nets went hard after the league's best center during this truncated offseason in hopes of building a two-man core as good as any in the league right now.
Howard seemed interested in the Nets when he wasn't proclaiming his love for Orlando or several other places, but that all seems for naught now that the Magic have decided to end trade talks for the time being.
It's hard to argue with Orlando's decision. The best offer the Nets could come up with was a three-team deal with Portland that would put Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace in Orlando, a pittance in return for a player with Howard's credentials and hardly a return that makes it worthwhile to give up all hope of Howard signing an extension in Florida.
They also know that the Nets offer isn't going anywhere, since there's not much the Nets can do to improve the deal. They have thrown a slew of first-round picks into the mix and they're willing to take back bad contracts, but there's not much talent on hand to make a trade more appealing to the Magic.
So Howard is off the market for now, although you can be sure there will continue to be discussions that turn him into this year's version of Carmelo. And that's not necessarily a good thing for the Nets.
It's not a good thing because every time the talks fire back up, there will be a bright spotlight on the fact that they have the same mediocre roster that they've had in each of the last few seasons. That strengthens the negative perceptions that the Nets have been fighting against for pretty much their entire existence and, without Howard, there's no way for the Nets to erase them.
While it helps them that the Magic would be flirting with losing Howard as a free agent, the fact that other teams will be in the hunt limits any Nets advantage.
If the Lakers, who have Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to offer, think they can make a run they could get back in the hunt and Howard could decide that he wants to win a title and look to the Bulls as a landing spot where he plays with Derrick Rose and a deep supporting cast.
Should that happen or, even worse, should Howard and Williams wind up in Dallas after the season, the Nets will be heading to Brooklyn with an empty roster and a restored reputation as an also-ran in the NBA.
The one thing that's remotely interesting about them is the fact that Mikhail Prokhorov is running against Vladimir Putin for the presidency of Russia, something that doesn't do all that much to spark interest in a basketball team.
The danger of swinging for the fences instead of trying to score runs by piling up singles and doubles is that you can strike out and not score at all. Why the Nets chose to go that route makes all the sense in the world, but it could well leave them with nothing of value at a moment when they need to be a marquee attraction.