Dwight Night at the Rock

Similar to Monday night’s game against the Knicks, it’s safe to assume Deron Williams and company have had tonight’s game circled on their calendar all season. Soon to be free agent center Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are coming to the Prudential Center tonight. It is sure to be a very unusually festive and welcoming environment for the visiting Howard. Superman may very well get the vibe that it’s an extra home game for him.

Brook Lopez will also be making his second start of the season since returning from his foot injury that kept him out one game short of half the season. Lopez said over the weekend that facing Howard would be a good test for him to measure where he is at in terms of returning to his normal play. The underlining story here is that in a little over three weeks, this matchup of the leagues top center’s will take place with the possibility of Howard and Lopez wearing opposite jerseys.

It is no secret that the Nets want Howard, and according to his representatives, the potential partnership has mutual feelings. On December 9th, Josh Robbins, of the Orlando Sentinel, broke the news of Howard requesting a trade to the New Jersey Nets.

Since then, Nets fans have been ecstatic with the sheer thought of being able to have both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard on the same team headed for Brooklyn.

Nets brass has used subtle hints to suggest their strong interest in adding Howard to their franchise. Back in January, the team placed billboards throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn which read, “Believe The Hype” and “Welcome to Brooklyn ’12.”

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As tonight's game drew closer, the Nets even reduced the cost of tickets for their Loud and Proud section to $12.

These aren't coincidences. They are subtle hints to show the basketball world that the Nets are serious in their pursuit of the Magic center. Sources say the Nets feel very optimistic, if not borderline confident they will get their man whether through a trade before the March 15th deadline, or in July when free agency starts. And they have every right to be.

They will be moving into a brand new state-of-the-art arena in downtown Brooklyn next season, cap space to sign both Dwight and Deron to max contracts, and the richest owner in sports. Howard and Williams would have New York City in the palm of their hands creating a much anticipated rivalry with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

But they wouldn't be the New Jersey Nets if there wasn't a potential obstacle or two standing in the way. This comes in the form of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Over the last few weeks, the Lakers have begun to fall out of the conversation for Howard due to a lack of cohesion in the front office. Reports from HoopsWorld writer Alex Kennedy have stated that during a conversation between Kobe Bryant and Howard, Kobe told him he would not be the first or second scoring option on the Lakers.

In addition to this, it is said Bryant went over how it would not be Dwight's team if he came to Los Angeles. Howard was reportedly turned off by those notions. The emergence of a healthy first-time All-Star in Andrew Bynum certainly makes the Lakers organization reluctant to part ways with him in favor of Howard.

This leaves the Dallas Mavericks as the only true threat to the Nets superstar foundation. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has gone out of his way to slowly position his franchise to sign both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this offseason. The Mavs let 3 of their championship pieces in Tyson Chandler, Jose Juan Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson go to other teams during the abbreviated free agency period to clear cap space for next season.

The next moves get tricky. Dallas must amnesty Brendan Haywood, waive both Vince Carter and Lamar Odom, allow Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to leave the team as free agents, and then after all of that is done trade Shawn Marion in exchange of another small, expiring contract. If there is anyone in the NBA that can pull this off, it’s certainly Mark Cuban.

Even then, the Mavs would not be able to offer both Williams and Howard max contracts since Dirk Nowitzki's current contract pays him $20 million dollars per season. But whose to say they wouldn't take a pay cut to play with one of the best power forwards ever? That alone is a significant threat the Nets have to worry about should they not be able to trade for Howard before the deadline.

Jimmy Lips

(picture courtesy of http://www.brooklynfans.com)

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