The Nets Are the Center of the Basketball Universe

The Dwight Howard trade talks rage on after Joe Johnson arrives

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When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, he made a lot of noise about championship aspirations.

His first couple of years owning the team made him sound like a billionaire blowhard who didn't know the first thing about basketball. Shut out by desirable free agents, Prokhorov just bought whatever was on the market and got the results you deserve for signing Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro.

Things appear to be changing as the team makes its way to Brooklyn. The Nets secured shooting guard Joe Johnson in a trade Monday, they remain hot on the trail of Dwight Howard and Deron Williams' return to the team feels closer as a result of both moves.

Johnson comes with some baggage, namely the worst contract in professional sports, which will pay him nearly 90 million over the next four seasons and make him the highest paid player in the NBA in 2015-16. That's outrageous for a player who should be, at best, the second-best player on your team.

Having said that, he's a very good player who will help the Nets immensely by spreading the floor and knocking down shots down the stretches of games. The fact that he cost the Nets absolutely nothing of value makes the deal all the better, especially since there's no way you make a move like that without an inkling from Williams that he's down to stick around.

Getting the deal done for table scraps also keeps the likes of MarShon Brooks, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries around to bid for Howard. The deal is harder than it was before Johnson came to town (and would look a lot likelier if the Nets had kept the sixth pick from last night's draft) and the Nets wouldn't have made it if they weren't prepared to move on from the man who should have an ESPN special called "The Indecision," but it isn't impossible. 

It will likely take a third team to take Humphries in a sign-and-trade, again placing a rather unremarkable player in the middle of a cultural phenomenon for which he'll simply get paid for facilitating before moving into the background. The Nets will be better if Howard doesn't join them for post-game smoked meats at Mile End, but, obviously, Howard would make them a serious player in the Eastern Conference.

Frankly, it seems like a long shot based on what Orlando could get back -- basically sacrificing cap space for the guts of a bad team -- but the Magic haven't exactly distinguished themselves as a franchise with the stomach or brains for the basketball business. How funny to see the shoe on the other foot after all the years of the Nets being a punchline.

Obviously, the New Jersey Netsiest outcome of this whole thing would be for the team to trade every asset they have to get Johnson and Howard only to see Williams sign with Dallas anyway. The Brooklyn Nets might not roll that way, though, and it is hard to imagine that Williams would see significant enough championship possibilities in Dallas to forgo an extra $25 million of Prokhorov's money.

The Nets have no such possibilities unless they land Howard, but the team now looks relatively certain to enter their new home with a team capable of a winning record. That makes them a winner of an offseason that's been all about the Nets thus far.

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Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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