- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2012

NEW YORK — Deron Williams had a tough decision to make. A two-time Olympian and three-time All-Star, Williams was one of the league’s most sought-after free agents this offseason.

Heavily recruited by his hometown Dallas Mavericks and his current team, formerly known as the New Jersey Nets, the point guard chose to stay with the Nets and signed a contract for five years and $98.7 million.

Then again, this season’s Nets aren’t exactly the same team that acquired Williams from the Utah Jazz back in February of 2011. The Nets have left the Garden State for the Empire State and are now the Brooklyn Nets. They have new uniforms with a classic black-and-white design and a logo that references Brooklyn’s 1950s-style subway signs.

They also have a new arena, the Barclays Center. After opening Sept. 21 with a series of concerts by Nets minority owner Jay-Z, the first basketball game there was Monday’s preseason contest between the Nets and the Wizards.

“It’s going to be the best arena in the NBA, hands down,” Williams said. “People are excited about a team coming here.”

It won’t be an easy task to supplant Madison Square Garden as the premier sports arena in New York, or make a dent in the Knicks’ fan base, but the Brooklyn Nets are hoping to do just that with their arena and by putting an exciting product on the floor.

The Nets were unsuccessful in landing former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, who originally asked for a trade to Brooklyn before signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, but they were successful in getting six-time All-Star swingman Joe Johnson. The tandem of Johnson and Williams will give the Nets one of the most potent backcourts in the NBA.

They are also planning to go head-to-head with the Knicks in the battle for celebrity fans, thanks in part to Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce, who will court the entertainment crowd. The Nets also are also the subject of this season’s NBA TV reality show, The Association, which will follow the team all season.

A side note for Wizards fans is the addition of Andray Blatche to the Nets’ roster. Washington released the polarizing forward/center in July using the amnesty provision. Blatche chose the Nets over the defending champion Miami Heat after what he called a “sales pitch” from Nets coach Avery Johnson.

“The conversation I had with Avery was more what I needed from him,” Blatche said in an interview with the New York Daily News. “It was about putting together a personal plan for me. I felt that would help me get to where I needed to be.”

As for his time with the Wizards and the way his career in D.C. ended, Blatche says he’s put it behind him.

“To be honest with you, I’ve forgotten about Washington,” Blatche said. “It’s old. It happened. I took it. Now I’m moving on. I can’t do over the past.”

The Wizards and Nets will meet four times, each hoping to avoid another appearance in the draft lottery. The Wizards have missed the playoffs the past four seasons, the Nets the past five. Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov made the bold promise to put a championship team on the court within five years after buying the team in 2010.

“It’s easy to make a strong team, but it’s very difficult to make a championship team,” Prokhorov said when Barclays Center opened last month. “So we are on the right way, and I’m expecting our championship within three years now.”

The Brooklyn Nets are on the clock.

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