You know all the adjectives used to describe him: moody, sulky, standoffish, aloof, cranky, the tease. You know how much you wanted to like him, wanted him to succeed, despite all that. But you knew at the end of the day, he had to go, one way or another. It's now the end of the day.
For five years, for more or less, Deron Williams was the franchise player, the player on the most billboards, the one interviewed the most about the future when the Nets were still in Jersey, the present when they arrived in Brooklyn. The franchise player.
Now, for the most part, it's a relief to see him go. As one team insider said of Friday's events, "There will be a lot more happy people in the world from now on, including Deron himself, which is a good thing, isn't it?" For the most part, fans have to agree. Dealing with Deron has been a chore, hoping for the best, being teased by occasional greatness but always understanding he wasn't the player he was in Utah, wasn't the leader the Nets thought they were getting.
What's sad is that the same was true when he left Salt Lake City in a trade that was at once shocking and exhilarating. Utah fans were for the most part happy to see him go, happy to move on. Nets fans were excited. A day after the losing out to the Knicks in the exhausting MeloDrama, the Nets got the player many, if not most, saw as the best point guard in the NBA, who Nets fans saw as the natural successor to Jason Kidd, who ownership saw as the star for Brooklyn.
The Nets did everything they could to embrace him, starting with Mikhail Prokhorov and Dmitry Razumov cutting short their Canadian heli-skiing vacation to fly to San Antonio to meet with him. John Schuhmann of NBA.com, chronicled some, but not all, of what ownership and management did for him...
- The Nets traded for Williams at the 2011 trade deadline after they lost the chase for Carmelo Anthony. In exchange for the point guard, they sent Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks, which became Enes Kanter in 2011 and Gorgui Dieng in 2013, to Utah.
- Williams was set to become a free agent in 2012, and the Nets were still struggling in their last season in New Jersey. So they traded a first round pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace, who was on an expiring contract. They only protected the pick 1-3, it landed at No. 6, and became Damian Lillard, who became the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and who has been a better point guard than Williams since.
- In the summer of 2012, the Nets had to re-sign Wallace, and they gave him a four-year contract worth $40 million. In the three seasons since then, he has shot 43 percent (29 percent from 3-point range), and scored a total of 864 points. Lillard has scored 4,977.
- The Nets knew that Wallace wasn’t enough to convince Williams to re-sign (he admitted later that he already had a house picked out in Dallas). So they traded for Joe Johnson, sending Atlanta a first round pick (which became Shane Larkin). The Nets also agreed to an Atlanta-favored pick swap in 2014 and 2015. That resulted in Brooklyn getting the 29th pick instead of the 15th pick this year.
- On Draft night 2013, the Nets went all-in, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They sent Boston three first round picks (2014 – James Young), 2016 and 2018, all unprotected. They also gave the Celtics the right to swap picks in 2017.
- The Nets also made a couple of staff changes at the behest of Williams. They fired long-time strength and conditioning coach Rich Dalatri to bring in Williams’ guy, who has already moved on.
He also invested himself in the role of "assistant GM" as he famously described himself to Jonathan Abrams while lying on the couch in Billy King's office.
As the years went on, as disappointments mounted, as injuries continued to nag him, his value dropped. There were always moments that teased, the last being Game 4 of the playoffs, when he scored 35 and near single-handedly saved the season, but there were too many Game 5's, too, when he scored five points and they lost.
Part of it was physical. Wrist and particularly ankle surgeries robbed him of his skills, his explosiveness. As Kevin Pelton noted, the dropoff became more severe last season. He shot just 45.7 percent within three feet last season, per Basketball-Reference.com, as compared to 64.6 percent the season before.
But what bothered ownership --and fans-- was the attitude. "We don't want players who don't want to be here," said one insider. That was just part of it. Everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells around Deron, wondering "which Deron will show up," said the same insider. He noted the last three coaches used those very same words to describe their biggest problem. His attitude manifested itself in different ways, in the lack of relationships with teammates and coaches, in his lack of mentoring for younger players, in his on-court demeanor. If the team went down early, he often gave up.
Players who were teammates of his criticized him publicly, great players like Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant. Pierce was the most open in his comments, telling Jackie MacMullan of ESPN...
"Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,'' Pierce said. "But I felt once we got there, that's not what he wanted to be. He just didn't want that.
"I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.''
Privately, Pierce could be just as devastating. According to more than one insider, Williams was complaining one day about his latest nagging injury when Pierce interrupted him. "What's the matter now, Deron? Your ____ hurt?" using a derogatory term for a woman's genitalia. He didn't hang around much with teammates, preferring the company of others on the staff. A friend of one player said of his pal, "He was pumped" at the news, ready for the season. Joe Johnson in particular wasn't a fan. There were reports that he had to be restrained from going after Lionel Hollins during a frank and brutal conversation around the All-Star Break.
So in the end, that negativity drove ownership to make the decision to do the deal. They didn't want that around a roster that now includes nine players under 25
To be fair, there were great moments, like the franchise record 57 points vs. Charlotte or the NBA record nine three-pointers in a half, or the end of LinSanity, played out at the Garden. And of course, the final memory, the final tease, Game 4.
The Nets coaching carousel was a problem for Williams and his teammates. The Nets had four in the five years he played with the Nets. The roster changed dramatically as ownership and management tried fixes to justify their huge expenses.
No one can suggest that Williams is anything but a great father --and a humanitarian, taking on the role of ambassador for Autism Speaks after learning his adopted son, D.J., suffers from the disease. He brought dozens of children and their families to Barclays Center, using donated suites to give the kids some space, their parents some peace.
Maybe, he will have a resurgence in Dallas, his hometown, in the more familiar, more wide open Western Conference. If he does and the Nets suffer, there will be recriminations. But it's unlikely there will be regrets. The Nets will save a lot of money, tens of millions of dollars, but their situation is now more stable on so many levels beyond money.
Team insiders admit there will probably be a dropoff next year, the loss of D-WIll and others will mean another regrouping in training camp. But they see this as well as addition by subtraction and believe the team will be better off as a unit. "This isn't science," said one. "These are people." And now, he thinks, they are happier.