Nets open camp as Howard buzz resonates
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—For the second straight year, the New Jersey Nets opened training camp with rumors of a possible trade for an All-Star.
And for the second straight year, no one was willing to talk about the reports, this time centering around a possible deal with the Orlando Magic to acquire All-Star center Dwight Howard.
Several outlets reported Friday, before the Nets held their first official workout of the new season, that the team was close to securing free agent-to-be Howard in a trade that would include third-year center Brook Lopez and two first-round draft picks.
But a deal seems a ways away.
The Magic, in fact, are considering filing tampering charges against the Nets for the team's hierarchy meeting with Howard while still under contract with the Magic. Nets owner Mikhail Prohkorov and general manager Billy King reportedly met with Howard in Miami Thursday night, but King issued a statement that such a meeting never took place.
"Contrary to published reports, the New Jersey Nets did not meet with Dwight Howard," King said in the statement.
In any case, Howard was the focus on the first day of training camp, much like last year, when the Nets were in hot pursuit of a trade for Carmelo Anthony that never materialized.
"It's absolutely crazy, like a circus," Lopez said after the first practice session. "I guess it comes with the business, but what can you do? It was a crazy summer to begin with, with the lockout and all. Now, I guess my name has been thrown out there. I've learned to just ignore the rumors. I did hear them last year, but it is a little more ramped up this time. I'm trying to ignore it, but I have friends in Orlando who are texting me and telling me I'm coming there."
Lopez isn't worried about the talk.
"I'm here to play basketball," he said, after declaring himself fit after offseason shoulder surgery. "That's all I'm focused on. I just have to keep coming out and working hard. I'm just glad to be back. I'm trying to keep the most professional attitude."
Lopez said that he has spoken with King, who was not available to the media Friday.
"I've talked to Billy here and there, but not about what you want to hear," Lopez said. "Billy has a lot to do right now. I just want to keep playing and help this team become successful. The last three years have been good and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Nets coach Avery Johnson also did not want to comment on the reports of a trade for Howard, whose agent told ESPN that his preference would be to come to New Jersey and help bring the Nets to Brooklyn next year.
"Right now, we're focused on basketball and what we can do on the court," Johnson said. "Whatever is being talked about will be resolved and we'll work with whoever shows up. We're obviously not finished with our roster. We're working on it."
As for the alleged tampering charges?
"I think the general counsel and Billy will take care of that," Johnson said.
Johnson was asked about Lopez's mental state and whether he showed signs of worry about the rumors.
"Fortunately, he's been through something like this before," Johnson said. "It's not the first time or the last time Brook has heard his name as part of a rumor. We're all trying to get them through the distractions. In today's world of social media, things are said, whether they are true or false. We just have to deal with them.
"No question, these are different circumstances that we have to deal with."
Nets All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who has told management that he would need for the team to acquire another marquee player in order for him to re-sign with the team, is friendly with Howard, but did not want to comment about the rumored deal.
"I'm not going to address it," Williams said. "It's just a rumor. There's nothing you can do about that. We can't get caught up in all of that. I'm not paying much attention to it."
Williams did say that his first true preseason practice with the Nets was spirited.
"A lot of the guys are in good shape," said Williams, who spent the lockout playing professionally in Turkey. "We got going pretty quickly. The pace was fast. We're putting in a lot of new stuff, so we're basically starting from scratch."
Johnson led the Nets to a 24-58 record last season.
"We had a lot of great energy today for a first practice," he said. "The young guys were scratching and clawing out there. It was a really good first day."
The Nets announced the signing of first-round draft pick MarShon Brooks and second-round selection Jordan Williams, and both practiced Friday. They also brought three players in from the team's NBDL franchise in Springfield, Mass. -- JamesOn Curry, Dennis Horner and Jerry Smith -- to participate in training camp.