clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BIT OF HISTORY: When DWill went from Chosen One to Pariah

New, comments

As part of our “Bit of History” series, Ajayi Browne takes a look at Deron Williams time with the Nets

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets- Game Four Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On Wednesday night, YES Network will re-broadcast Deron Williams 57-point game vs. the Bobcats back in March 2012. It was then —and still is— the single game scoring record for a Nets player, unless you want to count Julius Erving’s 63-point four-overtime game back in the ABA days. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the highlights ...

It’s one of two things that got us thinking of that day a year earlier when the Nets traded for D-Will, a deal that David Aldridge gave an A++++. The other thing is that next month marks the end of Williams stretched payments, the product of a July 2015 buyout that saved the Nets luxury taxes but saddled them with five years of dead money. (Aldridge broke that one too in an ironic twist.)

MAN ... It feels like it was just yesterday when that trade went down! The streets of New Jersey and New York were buzzing with noise. It was February 23, 2011, the day after the Knicks had beaten out the Nets in the MeloDrama and acquired Carmelo Anthony. Now things were more than even.

It was the only thing my friends and every basketball fan could talk about. The hype was so crazy that the servers for SB Nation got blown out. Nothing could be posted about the trade for 20 minutes. Imagine that! It looked like New York hoops was back! Stars on the Nets and Knicks, Barclays Center nearing completion!

The Nets traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks along with $3 million in cash for Deron Williams. Williams was arguably the best point guard at the time, a two-time All-Star, two time All-NBA, too. He had the passing I.Q, the shooting ability, and what caught most eyes, A KILLER CROSSOVER.

As he continued to turn heads, the Nets resigned Williams to a five-year $98 million contract in July 2012, four months after that 57-point game. He was to be the star for Brooklyn, the linchpin for Mikhail Prokhorov’s title ambitions. It was almost certain that this could not go wrong … right?

Wrong!

Unfortunately for Nets fans, Williams struggled in Brooklyn. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Nets are STILL paying him. Yes … it drives me crazy too.

Before Brooklyn bought out his contract in 2015, the Nets owed him $35 million. During buyout negotiations, Williams decided to settle for $27.5 million over a stretch of five years. That’s $220,000 every two weeks! In about a month on June 30th he will FINALLY come off the books, which is still hard to believe.

When we look back at this signing, many would say in retrospect that it was a bad move. If we are being honest here, it wasn’t. There was a clear reason why the streets of the metropolitan area were buzzing with noise or why the SB Nation servers were down the day D-Will was traded. If the talent was there, then what led to his downfall?

In Williams’ tenure with the Nets, injuries were always a problem, especially after 2012. Whether it was his wrist, ankles, knees, or ribs, Deron Williams’ injuries headlined more stories about the Brooklyn Nets than those showing highlights of him actually on the court. Just like Derrick Rose, it got to the point where fans would hold their breath when Williams hit the floor.

Every time Williams would return from injury or another, it wasn’t hard to notice a change in his game. D-Will wasn’t as quick and athletic as he used to be. His production dropped too. On the Jazz from 2006-2011, his averages were about 19 points with 10 assists. From 2011-2015 on the Nets, his averages were about 16 points with 8 assists and the number of games that he missed due to injury did help his value to the team either.

As a young point guard with potential coming to the Nets, there is no avoiding the harsh truth that everyone expected more. So much so that by Christmas 2015, this graced utility poles outside Barclays Center...

Other than injuries, team chemistry and a lack of leadership may have also been responsible for D-Will’s decline. In 2014, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were not feeling the vibe in the team locker room. In an April 2015 interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan after he had left Brooklyn Pierce pointed out...

“It wasn’t like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn’t want to play and didn’t want to practice.”

Of course we can say Pierce was not JUST referring to Williams here, but in this next quote he definitely was...

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.”

In a post game interview following a Mavericks victory over the Knicks in 2015, (it just had to be the Knicks), Williams was not afraid to speak on his struggles in Brooklyn.

“Expectations were high. I was injured pretty much the whole time I was there. Four coaches in 3½ years doesn’t help as a point guard with chemistry and things like that and just constant change. It felt like everybody felt I was the problem, and so now I’m gone.”

It’s not hard to see that teammates and coaches in the past expected Williams to be a franchise player. What comes with being a franchise player comes responsibility and leadership, two things that D-Will just couldn’t fulfill.

Earlier that year, after getting eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, Lionel Hollins then the Nets coach was real blunt about Williams, as per usual...

“He’s a good player, he’s a solid player, but I don’t think he’s a franchise player anymore.”

Curious on what would have happened if the Nets didn’t sign D-Will in 2012? (They were planning to throw a lot of money at Goran Dragic.) Or what would have happened if D-Will didn’t get injured? What if he didn’t go play for the Olympic team in 2012 and gotten ankle surgery, as the Nets wanted? Would that have given his body enough rest to be more durable? Then again, would his leadership still hold him back from bringing more success to the Nets? These were all things that the Brooklyn Nets gambled on when signing Deron Williams. Of course as a Nets fan it sucks that Brooklyn is still paying him but that will end soon.

There were moments, like the 57-point outburst, his pride in ending LinSanity (which had begun against him), and the sensational half of shooting he put together in March 2013 when he set the Nets record for 3 pointers with 11 and broke the NBA record for three’s in a half, with nine.

...And the last hurrah, the 35-point playoff explosion vs. the Hawks in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Many thought it could be a resurgence, but in the five other games of that series, he averaged a little more than seven points per contest, including games of five, three and two points.

His later career continued to devolve, ending with a trip to the Finals with Cleveland in 2017. Backing up Kyrie Irving he had games of 0-of-2 (twice), 0-of-4 and 0-of-5. He knew he was done.

At the end of the day, Deron Williams was an extremely talented player with a little razzle dazzle in his game. And the measure of a man is not just written on the court. He proved himself a great father 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.

I — and just about every other Nets fan — wish things could have turned out better.