For a moment it seemed like the basketball gods were trying to teach Mikhail Prokhorov a lesson. The Russian billionaire and owner of the  Brooklyn Nets had bought the team from real estate developer Bruce Ratner in 2010 armed with a desire to assemble the best roster that money could buy for the teams move to Brooklyn.

That was the plan, but in the end no one bought into Prokorov’s swagger or his dream and marquee players like LeBron James, and Chris Bosh rejected the Nets. The next season, 2010-2011, brought some hope with the acquisition of Utah PG Deron Williams, but the Nets were still awful and the thought was that Williams was merely playing out the string until his pending free agency when he would also reject Prokorov’s money and go team up with Dwight Howard or some other superstar to form yet another super-team like the Heat.

Mindful of that, the Nets worked diligently to acquire Howard, offering up trade bait/big man Brook Lopez and nearly everything else that wasn’t nailed down. Sucked into Howard’s bizarre game of chicken with the Magic, the Nets again lost out on their main target and went elsewhere, this time drastically over-paying for Portland SF Gerald Wallace, who after half a season opted out of his contract. 

This could be a moment of extreme panic for Prohorov and the Nets front office as they prepare to open up shop in Brooklyn and compete with the improved Knicks for New York basketball supremacy sans the franchise player that they have been craving since Jason Kidd left town. This could be that moment of panic, that moment where Prokhorov learns a hard lesson about the fickle machianations of players and their pursuit of more than just a fortune — it could be, but it is not.

Instead of a barren roster, the Barclay Center in Brooklyn may open with a packed roster featuring All Star Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson, Lopez, and maybe even Deron Williams, and Gerald Wallace as well as promising sophomore Marshon Brooks. The player the Nets likely won’t have though, is the one they have coveted above all others — Dwight Howard.

Last season it seemed like they might get him, with the Nets shipping picks, Lopez, and possibly Brooks to the Magic for Howard and then everything fell apart and Howard publicly embarrassed himself, going back and forth with the Magic before opting into the final year of his contract. Soon after, Howard went on the shelf with a back injury and then the Magic’s season ended earlier than it should have and head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith lost their jobs. Now, rehabbing from back surgery, Howard is stewing  again, reportedly demanding a trade to the Nets, a team that now doesn’t seem to have the financial flexibility that they did a day ago.

Now, there is a chance that the Nets could flip Wallace to the Magic in a sign and trade and couple him with Lopez and go after Howard, but most don’t feel that that is likely or enough, and I don’t think that that would be wise.

First off, if anyone gets to learn a lesson it might be Dwight Howard. The Magic big man has squandered a world of good will that he had built up as the affable anti-LeBron. A strong member of the community, a proud team leader, and the good karma bestowed upon Orlando after Shaq left the franchise in the dust on his way to LA. That Dwight Howard is a mere memory now thanks to the rumors about him working to get Van Gundy tossed, and the soap opera that has transpired as he struggled to pick a posture. Rumors about the Lakers, the Rockets, and the Mavericks have piped up, but through it all the Nets have seemed like the most likely destination until now.

Howard is, of course, one of the best players in the game. An unstoppable presence in the paint who would instantaneously be the biggest New York  basketball star since the heyday of Patrick Ewing but his opt in ended any chance that the Nets had had of acquiring him for nothing more than money.

With Johnson, Williams, Wallace, Lopez, Brooks, their 2013 1st round pick, and their mid-level exemption, the Nets are a mortal lock for the playoffs and contention for the next few years, and one of the leagues most well rounded teams. Are they a set in stone title contender? Maybe, maybe not, but are they that with Howard instead of, lets say, Lopez, Brooks, Wallace, and that pick? I don’t think so, and honestly I think they’re a weaker team in that case.

Everyone talks about the Heat, but the Nets prospective big 3 wouldn’t be in the same league as Wade, Bosh, and James. Howard’s injury history shouldn’t be ignored, nor should Johnson’s age and decline. We also shouldn’t ignore Lopez, who has withstood countless trade rumors and is always a threat to throw up a double double.

Lopez is also only 24, and has zero long term health questions, playing in every pro game available to him in his career prior to last season when he missed the majority of the season with a broken foot and a sprained ankle. Lopez may be approximately 3/4 of the player that Howard is, but he comes with a lot less baggage, and that doesn’t even touch on the production and value that Wallace, Brooks, and a future 1st round pick would be worth.

As I said though, this is all in flux and the look of the Brooklyn Nets could be very different this time tomorrow — one thing is for certain though, they’re already New York’s most interesting team.