EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Superstar point guard Jason Kidd single-handedly turned around the New Jersey Nets' franchise after being acquired a decade ago.
Now, the Nets are banking on Deron Williams to have a similar impact -- if they can keep him.
The Nets made one of their biggest trades in franchise history on Wednesday morning, sending Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round draft picks to the Jazz in exchange for Williams, a two-time All-Star who is averaging career highs of 21.3 points and 9.7 assists per game this season.
"I think that move is right up there with Jason Kidd, because he was able to turn this franchise around," Nets general manager Billy King, who called the Williams move the biggest he's ever made in his career as an NBA executive, said on Thursday.
It's also his shrewdest.
King has made some blockbuster transactions before. When he was the GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, he orchestrated deals that brought in Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber. He also shipped fan favorite Allen Iverson out of town.
But none of those moves topped this one.
"It's definitely the biggest trade I've ever made," King said. "Because those Sixers teams were good. And our best player was a piece we already had: Allen. But Deron Williams is the piece.
"The piece we needed to continue to build."
Former Nets president Rod Thorn felt the same way back in the summer of 2001.
They were confident he was going to be the player who would take them from a 26-win team to greater heights. And at his introductory news conference, Kidd guaranteed that the Nets would be at least a .500 team.
They ended up doing a whole lot better than that.
In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in league history, the Nets went 52-30 in 2001-02, advancing all the way to the NBA Finals.
Williams, of course, doesn't have the luxury of being surrounded by Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Jefferson. His team is also 17-40 and 9½ games out of a playoff spot with 25 games remaining. So he had to be realistic when asked about his expectations.
Although that doesn't mean he's dismissing the possibility of that type of turnaround in the future.
"I wasn't aware of [what Jason said], but the sky's the limit," Williams said. "There's a lot of things that can be done between now and 2012. I think that the way Billy's talking about the future, it's gonna be interesting."
For now, the Nets' future is supposed to lie in Brooklyn. After Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team, he announced his intentions to move it across the Hudson River to the NBA's first-ever billion-dollar arena, the Barclays Center, in 2012-13.
The Nets, though, don't know if Williams will be joining them.
If he opts out of his current contract, Williams can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 campaign. The Nets have said they're confident that they will be able to re-sign him, but Williams has yet to make his future intentions known. And the uncertainty of the CBA will certainly become a factor as well.
One team executive called Williams, "The Bridge to Brooklyn."
Back in the summer of 2003, the Nets seemed resigned to the fact that Kidd was going to sign with the San Antonio Spurs, leaving the Nets high and dry.
Luckily, they were able to convince him to stay and sign a six-year, $103.5 million extension on July 24, 2003.
Current CBA regulations mandate that the Nets cannot negotiate a new accord with Williams until July 18, 2011 -- or exactly three years to the day that he signed his previous pact with the Jazz.
So now it's up to the Nets to sell their superstar on the future -- much like they did with Kidd.
Kidd always said it was hard to imagine the team's future in Brooklyn because an arena wasn't built. But construction has already begun on a steel structure, something King plans to take the team to see shortly.
"I think it was hard [then] because it was a rumor," King said. "I feel like now you can see it. We're actually gonna take the whole team over to see it. That's when you know. It's like when they were building Jets/Giants Stadium. They talked about it, but when you finally saw it going up, it became a reality."
The Nets are hoping that Williams making a long-term commitment to the organization also becomes a reality. But that won't happen unless they can build a team around Williams.
"I think it's a little closer now than it was," Williams said. "There's a date now. So I think it's a lot easier to sell Brooklyn to myself and other players now than it was back then."
Aside from 22-year-old center Brook Lopez, the Nets don't have many building blocks.
"We still know our roster needs help," head coach Avery Johnson said. "We know that. He's not gonna come in here and it's gonna be the Deron Williams-Brook Lopez show. We know that doesn't work. It's a team sport and we gotta continue to address some of our other needs."
King said that Williams is going to have a lot of authority in his decision-making process going forward.
"I do that for a lot of guys," King said. "I've always worked that way, because players know a lot more than you do. They know what guys you should go after, how they are as teammates. You want to ask them that."
So now it comes down to this: The Nets have 25 games, plus a season -- if there isn't a lockout -- to convince Williams that this is the place to be.
They have pieces. They have assets. They have $19 million in cap space to spend in the offseason.
Still, Williams said the first thing he thought of when he came here was the Nets' abysmal record. And that's going to have to change as well.
"I haven't been on a losing team in my career," Williams said. "It's definitely a change and a challenge, but I look forward to it, turning this thing around and playing for a title."
King's legacy and Prokhorov's five-year championship plan depend on it.
"Absolutely," the executive said. "We know that. That's why we're going to do everything we can to keep him. We're confident that we can. We're confident that we can get another guy to play with him."
Talk about optimism.
Optimism is something the Nets' franchise didn't have prior to Wednesday.
But they have it now.
And based on the impact that Kidd had a decade ago in turning their franchise around, there's no reason they shouldn't.
The Nets landed Williams. Now, they just have to keep him.