In his last game of the 2014-15 season, Deron Williams fluctuated between looking ordinary and being ordinary. The invisibility of his game was a striking contrast to what he used to be. On this night there was no hint of the Olympian and the All-Star. He was just an average player trying to keep his playoffs hopes alive. He wasn’t great, wasn’t good, wasn’t spectacular, wasn’t interesting.
The league is made up of players like Deron Williams. They play for awhile, retire and then reminisce about their days in the NBA. But to lump Deron Williams in with that group feels wrong. At one time, Williams was on the same level as Chris Paul. He was a tough cover because he was a big guard who could post-up, drive to the rim and excel on the perimeter.
Be careful what you ask for. Deron Williams was a max player who wanted to be the face of a franchise. Paul Pierce’s point of view was that Williams couldn’t live up to the $100 million dollar contract he signed and on this Friday night in the playoffs, his career was what it had been for a while, in massive decline. He seemed slow and inhibited and he wasn’t the best point guard on the court.
Twenty five year old Jeff Teague was responsible for the Nets blowout loss. While Williams watched helpess to do much of anything, Teague, had 13 assists, dishing here and there and even though he didn’t have any points, Teague controlled the game from beginning to end. It made you remember Deron Williams once upon a time. And then it made you think Deron Williams was never what everyone thought he was. He let his career slip quietly away from him, seemingly without a fight.
How does it happen that a player on the fast track for a Hall of Fame career and NBA title chase(s) would fall so far off the map? Williams had ankle issues in back to back years with pain so excruciating he often had to get injections before he played. But he always played. Yet, during his decline no one talked about how bad his ankles were as a reason why he wasn’t the same player.
The talk about Deron Williams was he was overpaid, he couldn’t make it in New York, he didn’t have the toughness. It was Kobe Bryant who questioned his confidence. But in Bryant’s candid comments the point was missed about what Bryant was really referring to. It wasn’t that Williams should jack up more shots on a bad night, but that he no longer had the same aggressiveness of when he was a star in the NBA. He lost something.
Traded to his hometown of Dallas this summer, Williams is back in the gym and the Mavericks intelligentsia are impressed with what he is showing. But it’s only practice. He doesn’t have to go up against the slew of dynamic guards in the Western Conference, much younger than Williams and therein lies the cruel irony. He left the Western Conference and without sympathy, was replaced.
Is the Deron Williams that played in Utah gone for good? Can we expect a good game, two or three times a month, but nothing more extensive than that? Is this is as good as he will ever get, better than what he showed in four years in New Jersey/Brooklyn, but never that brilliant versatile guard that dominated the guard position, on par with Chris Paul.
Resurrections rarely happen in sports, only in sports movies. Usually the way it goes, players have good years and bad years. The bad years in Brooklyn/New Jersey will fade away with a good year in Dallas. Though one remarkable season will never erase what happened in those dreadful years after Deron Williams forced his way out of Utah. Be careful what you ask for.
photo via commons.wikimedia.org