Travis Outlaw can return Friday

Updated: December 14, 2011, 12:47 PM ET
By Mike Mazzeo | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New Jersey Nets small forward Travis Outlaw will be cleared for contact practice on Friday. He was originally ruled out of Saturday's preseason game against the New York Knicks, but coach Avery Johnson said he may play -- assuming he's still on the roster.

"You never know," Johnson said. "It's a possibility."

Outlaw is a prime candidate to be waived via the one-time amnesty clause, and the deadline for that is Friday. Otherwise, the Nets won't be able to use their amnesty clause until the 2012 offseason. If the Nets waive Outlaw and the remaining four years and $28 million on his contract, they'll clear up $7 million in cap space.

The 27-year-old Outlaw broke his right shooting hand in an "embarrassing" accident during an offseason boxing workout and underwent surgery 10 weeks ago in Colorado. He was evaluated by team doctors on Dec. 6 and was told he'd have to go 10 days without contact before returning.

"I'm itching to get back out there, but I think it's gonna help my hand," said Outlaw, who worked out on the side during the contact portion of practice Tuesday and then hoisted some free throws and 3-pointers. "I don't want another setback. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Johnson said the change Outlaw's status was made after meeting with trainer Tim Walsh and having a discussion with Outlaw.

Outlaw said he's still feeling some "nerve damage" from the surgery, but otherwise his hand is all right.

"My conditioning is good," Outlaw said. "I broke my hand, but it didn't stop me from running. I'm just pushing to get better."

Outlaw doesn't know what his future holds.

"I do [think] it's a blessing to still be around and play with your teammates because at the end of the day you always wanna play, so it's good to be on a team," Outlaw said.

It isn't a guarantee that Outlaw will be a victim of the amnesty clause, sources said, because the Nets would need to find a suitable replacement for him first. They were interested in free agent Caron Butler before he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers but were unwilling to meet his asking price. Tayshaun Prince and Thaddeus Young -- two other potential targets -- also re-signed with the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively. The Nets are interested in Josh Howard, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.

The only other small forwards on their roster besides Outlaw are second-year pro Damion James and veteran Stephen Graham, whose contract isn't guaranteed unless he makes the team out of training camp.

Their biggest need, though, remains in the frontcourt. In a dream scenario, they'd love to land Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in a blockbuster trade. Their contingency plans had included signing free agent Nene, but he agreed to stay with the Denver Nuggets. The Nets could also bring back Kris Humphries to complement 23-year-old Brook Lopez up front.

Outlaw shot a career-worst 37.5 percent from the field and averaged 9.2 points per game in his first season with New Jersey in 2010-11 after inking a five-year, $35 million deal. He said he had a difficult time making the transition from being a stretch power forward to playing small forward, which was the main reason for his struggles.

"It was just a bit of confusion on my part," Outlaw said. "I feel like I'm familiar with the system and I'm more comfortable."

In other news, Johnson said that rookie second-round pick Jordan Williams will miss a a minimum of five days with dehydration. Wiliams is going to get some tests and receive IVs.

"He was really losing weight at a really high level. That concerned us. There were some other issues, medical issues that came up in practice," Johnson said.

The Nets coach also said Shelden Williams, who sources told ESPN NewYork.com was officially signed to a one-year contract worth the veteran's minimum on Tuesday, would probably start at power forward on Saturday. Reserve small forward Stephen Graham tweaked his ankle a bit, but he should be ready to go "within the next day or two," Johnson said.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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