Will Lakers try for Deron Williams?
LOS ANGELES -- Deron Williams emerged from the training room looking tired and drawn. While reporters huddled around teammates Kris Humphries and Jordan Farmar, Williams sat quietly at his locker, holding his cell phone and stroking the bottom of his goatee. He was too upset to get dressed or soak his feet in the ice bucket in front of him, or to read through any of his texts.
This season isn't even a month old, but it's obviously wearing already on Williams. His New Jersey Nets have lost 11 of their first 14 games after Monday's listless 101-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Center Brook Lopez is out another couple of months with a broken foot. Dwight Howard isn't arriving anytime soon, if at all. Which leaves Williams in this strange place, waiting for things to turn around in New Jersey, or plotting an escape via free agency this summer if they don't.
He's neither here nor there. His present consists of waiting for his future to sort itself out. The only saving grace is that because the Nets gave up so much to get him last year, he doesn't face the constant barrage of questions about where he might get traded, as Howard does every day.
But the more New Jersey loses, the more miserable Williams looks. And as the prospect of landing Howard seems further and further away, the trade issue will come up that much more.
"It's tough," Williams said, when I asked how he's dealt with all the losing to start the season. "We've had a brutal schedule. Everybody has. We've been on the road and played a lot of games in a short amount of time. We're a young team, a team that was just put together. So it's been tough. We knew everything wasn't going to come together overnight."
It is widely assumed around the NBA that Williams is ticketed to his hometown Dallas Mavericks as a free agent this summer if the Nets can't persuade him to stay.
While the Lakers had extended conversations with Orlando about Dwight Howard last month, it is lost on no one that when they actually pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal, it was for a point guard -- Chris Paul -- not Howard.
With that deal long since scuttled by the NBA, would the Lakers ever make a play for Williams?
Judging by the reaction that Williams admits to getting as he's walked around Los Angeles the last couple of days, Lakers fans certainly hope so.
"I've had that since I was in Utah, Laker fans wanting me to come here," Williams said Monday. "It's definitely flattering. I'll address all that when the time is right."
When my colleague J.A. Adande asked if playing at Staples Center and walking around town the last couple of days made him think about spending more time here one day, Williams smiled and said, "I like the warm weather out here. I live right up the street in San Diego."
It was a vague answer to be sure. But it wasn't a shutdown answer, either.
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And really, it didn't need to be. Williams' intentions -- like those of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard -- are pretty clear. He wants to win, and whichever situation affords him the best opportunity to do so, that's where he wants to be.
Williams' name comes up in Lakers circles more often than anyone cares to admit. But there was never anything more than chatter because it's always been assumed New Jersey would hold onto him as long as it possibly could after giving up so much to get him in the first place.
When Howard let it be known earlier this season that his first preference was to be traded to the Nets and open their new arena with Williams, it didn't even seem worth considering a trade for Williams.
But the trade talk between Orlando and New Jersey has quieted since Lopez -- the key piece to any such deal -- was lost to a broken foot.
"They can't even talk about that trade again until Brook Lopez comes back and proves he's healthy," a league source said. "And to be honest, I think New Jersey has kind of figured out that they're going to lose [Williams] unless they can get Dwight Howard there, too."
In other words, stay tuned.
"Personally, I think he ends up in Dallas," the source said. "Mark [Cuban] is not going to make the moves he did [letting Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea leave as free agents] without feeling pretty good about getting one of those guys [Williams or Howard] at some point.
"Who knows, maybe they'll get both, but I think it's an either/or thing. It's just too hard to pull off. So if Dallas is getting one of them, the Lakers need to figure out how to get the other. Or they need to decide whether they're better off sticking with what they have."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak alluded to that last week in an interview with ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin.
"We're into the season now, so generally speaking, when you're into the season things slow down and people typically want to see how their team looks," Kupchak said. "So, without being specific, that's where we are."
Well, for now that's where the Lakers are: standing pat. Seeing what they have, projecting what they can become, and trying to come together and win basketball games along the way.
It's a tenuous peace, though. One that could change on a dime or a whim. And come March, when Howard and Williams' fate takes a more defined shape, who knows?
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.