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Friday, August 6, 2004
Veteran signs three-year contract news services

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Nets started the process of replacing Kenyon Martin on the front line by signing Eric Williams to a three-year, $12 million contract Friday.

Williams, 6-foot-8, has averaged 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in nine NBA seasons. He split last season between Boston and Cleveland, averaging 10 points and 4.0 rebounds in 71 games.

"He is a quality NBA veteran who can play both forward positions," Nets president Rod Thorn said.

Williams also provides a presence on defense.

"I come in the game defensive-minded," Williams said. "I'm just trying to get my teammates to understand the defensive concept role."

Williams is from New Jersey and still has a house in Newark, which is about 20 minutes from Continental Airlines Arena.

"It gives me a chance to come back home," he said. "That's always a dream."

Williams joins a club looking to rebuild after signing and trading Martin, an All-Star power forward, to the Nuggets, and then trading starting shooting guard Kerry Kittles to the Clippers. Both moves were to save money.

The Nets would have had to pay Martin $23 million this year in salary and front-loaded bonuses had they matched Denver's proposed seven-year, $90 million offer. Kittles and his $10 million contract were shipped to the Clippers for a second-round draft choice.

New Jersey made sure All-Star point guard Jason Kidd had someone to throw the ball to for the next few seasons, giving small forward Richard Jefferson a $78 million contract extension on Thursday.

"Jason Kidd is the top guard in the league," Williams said. "He's going to make everyone around him even better. Kittles is a great shooter. Losing someone like that, of course, is always going to hurt a team, but we have a great young player in Richard Jefferson. We've still got the pieces to compete, especially in the East."

The Nets have won three straight Atlantic Division titles. Their two-year run as Eastern Conference champions ended in the conference semifinals with a loss to eventual NBA champion Detroit.