- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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In what could be a sign that Deron Williams intends to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets, the star point guard invited Nets coach Avery Johnson to a small and intimate gathering to celebrate his 28th birthday Tuesday night, sources said.
Johnson, the only member of the Nets' organization in attendance, was one of roughly eight people who joined Williams at a restaurant in the New York area. The group also included members of Williams' family and his agent, Jeff Schwartz.
In perhaps another indicator that the three-time All-Star is leaning toward remaining with the Nets, Williams poked his head into general manager Billy King's news conference Wednesday morning at the team's practice facility in New Jersey.
Williams did not address the media, briefly smiling and declining King's joking invitation to switch seats before leaving the conference.
King claimed he was invited to Williams' birthday party but did not attend.
King, who has been the Nets' GM for the past two years, maintained that he is confident Williams will stay with the team.
"I haven't wavered or changed any feelings," King said. "I'm not overconfident, I'm not any less confident, I just feel pretty good."
On Saturday, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Williams had narrowed his choices to the Nets and the Dallas Mavericks, his hometown team.
King acknowledged that the Mavericks likely are a top contender to sign Williams but claimed the Nets are in a solid position to retain the most coveted free agent on this summer's market.
"Mark Cuban will call him," King said Wednesday. "At the end of the day he's going to play here or someplace else. I think we've done everything, prepared everything, we've got a great building. So everything is mapped out; he sees what we have, he sees what they have and he's gotta make a decision."
Early Tuesday, the Nets sent a truck with a Brooklyn Nets logo that read "HAPPY BIRTHDAY DERON! from your Brooklyn family" on the side of it to his Brooklyn apartment. Williams' wife, Amy, tweeted a picture of the sign.
In a likely response to the Nets' pitch, the Texas Rangers championed the Mavs' cause on Tuesday night, wishing Williams a happy birthday on their stadium scoreboard.
The message, which was posted during the Rangers' game against the Detroit Tigers, also read "Be A Maverick!"
There are increasing signs, however, that Williams will stay put. He has been working out almost daily at the Nets' practice facility, often going through shooting drills with Johnson. Sources say he also has discussed strategies for next season with Johnson.
King added that he has a solid relationship with Williams outside of basketball.
"I think he and I have a very good relationship," King said. "We talked, but it's not always about basketball. We talk about life and golf. He's a good golfer, I'm a bad golfer."
That said, Williams has not yet made up his mind, according to sources close to the situation. He has said publicly that he intends to make his decision quickly, most likely before he reports to training for Team USA on July 5.
Williams is not planning to visit or meet with any teams once the league allows clubs to begin recruiting players, sources said.
King, however, joked that he is prepared to contact Williams as soon as free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday.
"Maybe I'll wake him up and call him," King said. "I don't know. I'll probably see him before he leaves here. ... I think he knows us, he knows me, he knows everything about us at this point. I don't think there's a lot of wooing we can do more."
The Houston Rockets are trying to put together an elaborate plan of trading for Orlando's Dwight Howard and clearing enough cap room to offer Williams a max-level contract, according to sources. But it's unlikely the Rockets will be able to pull it off.
ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo contributed to this report.