Deron Williams: Now What?

For Deron Williams, last season mercifully ended with a playoff defeat in Brooklyn, his transplanted home. There the metaphor lay. Nothing about Brooklyn was home, was comfortable, was peaceful, was happy. Even as Williams was thoroughly outplayed by Jeff Teague in game six, he (and everyone else) had a sense of what was coming next, that he and Brooklyn would get a divorce and it would be public and it would send him home to the warm arms of Dallas, his Nets trauma behind him.

A season later, a five game playoff series loss, an injury, and surgery on the calendar, plus a career up in the air if he chooses to opt-out the last year of his deal to take advantage of the spike in salaries, all of it replaces the happiness dilemma. Does Deron Williams want more money? (His next year’s salary is $5,621,026). Is he willing to risk his happiness to get it?

Draymond Green eloquently stated a few days ago, “the worst thing in life is uncertainty.” Nothing about Williams professional career is certain if he opts-out and becomes a free agent on July 1. He has suffered through injuries the last five years of his career so in many eyes he is damaged goods, a broken player who can do things in the regular season but you can’t trust his body. Yes, he’s a capable point guard but he is two tiers below the dynamic point guards.

He’s not in the Steph Curry-Russell Westbrook class. He’s not in the Chris Paul class. He’s not in the Damian Lillard-Kyle Lowry class. He is not equal to Kemba Walker. So who is Deron Williams now?

After eleven NBA years that have pulled him into greatness and into despair, how is he being defined?

For one, he still impacts the game as a point guard but he is no longer dominant, nor is he elite. He is ranked 23rd among point guards in Real Plus-Minus which measures a players influence when he is on the court. Point guards ranked ahead of him are Jose Calderon and Marcus Smart which says everything you need to know about Williams game in year eleven. He is a starter in the league but he no longer has the skills to be able to exert his will on a contending team. He’s not explosive enough anymore. His worth pairs him with the NBA middle class clique who will never get to a conference final but will be a 6-8 playoff seed.

The numbers:  He made 45% of his two-point shots with Dallas and 39% with Brooklyn a year ago. He finished 59% of his shots at the rim this year, 45% last year. His long two’s were infinitely better, 41% to 35%. In 2015-16, he made 41% of his shots which was a stark decline from his career high of 50% when he was almost 24 years old, having completed his third year in the league. Then the consensus was Deron Williams, a better point guard than Chris Paul, could take his man on the block and post him up.

Eight years later, Chris Paul’s game has stayed pretty much the same while Deron Williams, a one time Hall of Famer possibility, has settled into a better than average player on a team that doesn’t have the youth, explosion or talent to do anything more than eke out a five game series. But, Chris Paul didn’t have the injuries Williams had. Chris Paul was never unhappy.

Deron Williams Brooklyn experience is always narrowed down to the money, his insecurity and the struggle to live up to expectations. Lost in all of that truth is Williams had ankle injuries he played through until he couldn’t. They changed his game. Athletically, he’s not the same player. In the middle of his career, his body changed and he had to adjust on the fly.

As stories go, it’s not that melodramatic. Deron Williams will be in the NBA next year on someone’s roster. Going into the summer Sacramento, Houston and Memphis are the Western Conference teams without a signed starting point. Would Williams be willing to not start and be a back up on a contender, now that injuries are such a crucial part of the NBA landscape, and his very personal story? Or does he want to stay in the protected cocoon that Dallas offers?

An injured Williams had a dreadful playoff series, 33% shooting, but he did make 43% of his threes. He only played 16 minutes a game. But Williams can still dish the ball, even hurt. He was responsible for 2.7 assists in his limited time. His regular season numbers are more indicative of what Dallas or any other team is going to get: 32 minutes, 14 points, 5.8 assists, 34% from three.

And so here is where the middle is, almost a year later. Coming home was good for Deron Williams career and his confidence and his mental health. Dallas was a proving ground.  He can still play in the league, even if Deron Williams the All-Star is only visible in some dated history book of the Utah Jazz in the Sloane years.

He was happy this year and that means a lot once you have passed the ten year NBA lifer mark and have suffered trauma the way Williams has.

“This has been a great year for me as far as just being happy and enjoying playing basketball again.”

Williams, at one point, had thought of quitting the game altogether, that’s how low his Brooklyn experience had taken him, how depressed he was. That bridge crossed and burned, he wants to return to Dallas and he can, if he chooses not to opt-out of his contract. “I would love to be back. This was a great year for me.”

But does he want more money too?

 

photo via llananba