- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Jersey Nets acquired forward Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trail Blazers in a deadline deal on Thursday in exchange for center Mehmet Okur, small forward Shawne Williams and New Jersey's protected 2012 first-round pick, the Nets announced. The pick is top-3 protected, according to a league source.
"Gerald gives us some great defense, versatility, he's a hard worker and he'll provide leadership," Nets general manager Billy King said in a Thursday night conference call, hours after the 3 p.m. trade deadline passed.
The Nets already have lost three small forwards to season-ending injuries -- Damion James, Williams and Keith Bogans, who since has been waived. They have been starting DeShawn Stevenson at that spot, but he's playing out of position.
King said it was difficult to give up the pick, but "in meeting with our scouts, we felt the player that we may draft beyond the protection would be somebody that would probably take a couple years (to develop), and at this point, we're trying to speed the process up a bit and start winning (more).
"I can understand the fanbase (wanting us to keep the pick), but I'd rather try to balance the roster, add a piece and still have cap flexibility," King said.
A team source told ESPN.com's Chad Ford the Nets were willing to part with their top-3 protected pick because there are only three players in the upcoming draft the Nets covet -- Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Kansas' Thomas Robinson.
The Nets still have Houston's 2012 protected first-rounder, King noted, "so it's not like we got completely out of the draft." At the same time, it appears as though they're in "win-now" mode.
Wallace, who will turn 30 on July 23 and is in his 11th NBA season, was averaging 13.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 42 games for the Blazers. He is slated to make $9.5 million this season and has a player option for 2012-13 at the same amount.
Asked if he was concerned about the possibility of Wallace opting out, King responded, "Not really."
Okur, whose contract will expire at the end of the season, has not played for the Nets since Jan. 25 because of back problems, while Williams, who has a player option for next season at $3.1 million, was lost for the season in late February because of a foot injury.
The move was part of a massive overhaul for the Blazers (20-23, 12th place in the Western Conference). They traded center Marcus Camby to the Houston Rockets, and also fired coach Nate McMillan and replaced him in the interim with assistant Caleb Kanales.
Wallace is due to fly to New Jersey and have a physical on Friday, and should be available Saturday night at home against the New Orleans Hornets, King said.
The Nets, sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein, had been engaged in blockbuster trade talks with the Orlando Magic late Wednesday night in an effort to acquire center Dwight Howard. But they were dealt a devastating blow on Thursday morning when Howard changed his mind again and elected to waive his early termination option and stay in Orlando through 2012-13.
New Jersey's strategy, sources told Stein, is to stockpile as many players and draft picks as possible -- as well as maintaining salary-cap space -- to make another trade run at Howard or another star to be determined in conjunction with the June draft -- before star guard Deron Williams can become a free agent July 1.
The Nets had hoped to acquire Howard, who had demanded a trade to New Jersey back in December and wanted to partner with Williams when the team moves to Brooklyn next season, either via trade or as a free agent in the offseason, but it didn't work out.
So they quickly moved on to their contingency plan to add Wallace.
"I'll pass," King replied when asked when he knew the Nets were out of the Howard sweepstakes.
Players and executives are not allowed to talk about players under contract with other teams, per NBA rules.
"I'm not gonna get into it. We were involved in a lot of things. Some things didn't work out, but one thing we did do did work out," King said. "I'm always one to look at the glass half full. We're moving on. We got a starting small forward. I think he's a good fit for us and that's all I can focus on."
Given that Howard is off the market, it's up to the Nets to convince Williams not to leave. The Nets are confident they can re-sign the 27-year-old, who has said he intends to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent at season's end.
King said he spoke with Williams earlier Thursday and there was no discussions about him possibly opting out for 2012-13.
Williams has spoken highly of his relationship with Nets' upper management and the bevy of marketing opportunities he's had since he was traded to New Jersey. But he hates losing, and the move could be seen as the Nets trying to appease him and win now.
The Nets (15-29) are 4½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're not that far out of it, and we've got a pretty favorable schedule, so the thought is to push for that playoff spot," King said.
Factoring in restricted free-agent center Brook Lopez's $7.7 million cap hold, a max contract for Williams worth about five years, $109 million and Wallace opting in, the Nets would have $8 million in cap space heading into the summer of 2012.
New Jersey could use that money to either re-sign Kris Humphries or pursue a free-agent power forward such as unrestricted free-agent-to-be Kevin Garnett or restricted free-agent-to-be Ryan Anderson, sources said.
Wallace could also opt out and sign at a lower annual value to create more room, sources said.
King said he's spoken to Portland throughout the year. Before the season started, reports said the Nets were close to a three-team trade with Orlando and Portland that would've sent Howard to New Jersey. Orlando would've received Lopez, Wallace and a first-round pick, while Portland would've received four future first-round picks. But the blockbuster deal was nixed by Magic management.
Lopez is out with a sprained right ankle, and King said the team would provide an update on his status on March 23. Williams has missed the past three games with a strained right calf, and is listed as day to day. Sources told Stein the Nets could call up combo guard Jerry Smith from the D-League's Springfield Armor.
The Nets play Howard and the Magic in Orlando on Friday night.
Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein was used in this report.