Nets open camp as Howard buzz resonates

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.