The Tortured Brooklyn Demise and Fading Light of Deron Williams

Now that the Brooklyn Nets have gone through extraordinary lengths to purge Deron Williams from their roster both Brooklyn and Williams can go back to their ordinary lives as if these past three years have been one of those invisible things you don’t remember because, frankly, nothing was accomplished.

With Williams in Brooklyn the Nets never won 50 games. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs twice. One year they made it to the second round of the playoffs only to be torched by the Miami Heat, barely eeking out one game in the process. So, Deron Williams max player was Deron Williams playoff failure and for most of his Brooklyn tenure, he was Deron Williams invisble man.

But, the question persists: how exactly does a max player, a star, an Olympian, an All-Star, slide so fast to the bottom? How does his once great career become irrelevant, ordinary, boring, repetitive and dull as hell?

In 2014-15, Deron Williams, the $21 million dollar player with two years left remaining on his contract, was spectacularly below average, worse than ordinary. He had a career low season, making 38% of his shots, averaging 13 points per game which is the same amount of points per game as Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics), who is making less than half of what Williams makes. Williams was similarly awful in the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, shooting 39% and losing in 6 games even as he had one perfect game in which he resurrected the old Deron Williams, reaching back into some half-shut closet of memories. He had 35 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals. He drilled a turnaround jumper as the shot clock was expiring, one of those plays great players make from time to time that make you shake your head.

But the next game it was business as usual. Williams was horrendous with 5 points, 25% shooting, the ghost reappearing just in time to shut the door on Williams ability to be a star. Remember him? The player who was considered a better point guard than Chris Paul.

It’s laughable now but Williams used to be explosive particularly around the rim. He could shoot the three and the mid-range with a level of accuracy that created fear in defenders. He was one of the few NBA guards who could post up and score. Defenders were often confused as how to guard Williams who could blow-by repeatedly but he could also drill contested shots. His combination of talents and skills made him a no-brainer for the Olympic team roster in 2008 and 2012, the holy collection led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

In the playoffs of five years ago, Deron Williams assist percentage was 41.0%. 4 out of 10 baskets were made because of the things Deron Williams did with the basketball to make them happen. This year his assist percentage was 28.6%.

Deron Williams was in the national championship game in 2005 and then was a lottery pick of the Utah Jazz and then had early success as a rookie, 11 points 5 assists. Two years later he made his playoff debut and it was spectacular: 20 points, 9 assists, 39.1% assist rate. Eight years later he has fallen off the cliff into no-man’s land whereas his team wanted him gone so badly they were willing to pay him to leave.

A reputation is never fluid even though people look the other way when a bad incident happens. Baggage, though, is hard to take from off your back. Deron Williams took all the blame when his first coach, Jerry Sloan was fired. Sloan was revered in coaching circles even as he was understood to be tough, unyielding and hardly player friendly. In Brooklyn, Williams next coach, Avery Johnson, was also fired. P.J. Carlesimo followed Johnson who was then followed by Jason Kidd and Kidd quit and booked to Milwaukee. The new Brooklyn coach, Lionel Hollins, another tough coach, had run-ins with Deron Williams, one in which, according to sources, they nearly came to blows. So who exactly is the problem here? Five different coaches or Deron Williams?

Add to that the lower body of Deron Williams began to break down, particularly his ankles. They have bothered him the entire time he was in Brooklyn and have had a major impact on his explosiveness and his shooting and have affected his mental toughness. In Brooklyn, after signing the max deal, he was never the tough, gutsy, take-no-prisoners point guard like he was in Utah. He was no longer reactive but was inside his head and the pressure of playing in New York ruined his game.

Take the playoffs last year as evidence. In game 2 against the Miami Heat, Williams missed his first nine shots and then didn’t shoot again. It caught the attention of Kobe Bryant.

“I would go 0-30 before I went 0-9. 0-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourse out of the game because Deron Williams can get more shots in the game. The only reason is because you’ve just lost confidence in yourself.”

When the Nets made Williams their max player, when they showed him the plans of the Barclays Center in the recruiting pitch, when they designed their team around him as the head of the snake, the expectation was that Williams was going to drive this show, that he was going to be willful, tough, engaged and a leader. Paul Pierce who played with Williams in Brooklyn was unbelievably disappointed.

“Before I got there I looked at Deron as a MVP candidate. 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 the 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.”

Pierce’s comments were tough to have bandied all over the internet but they made sense for those of us who watched Williams in Brooklyn look like a ghost, disappearing by inches. All of a sudden he had a small career, he was ordinary and although it rarely happens to players who had achieved his level of success, it pointed to the fluctuation of a career, how you can be one thing one day and something else the next. Deron Williams and his grand fall sunk the Nets into a cauldron they could never recover from and it will be known in history as one of their grand, grotesque mistakes. They needed Deron Williams to be great. He wasn’t. It took a long time for the Nets to figure this out, that they were drowning with Deron Williams on the roster.

The buyout has financial implications for Brooklyn. Even thought it’s a tough pill to swallow to continue paying a player who is now in Dallas, it was the Nets only option to save the organization their reputation, particularly as they look for a buyer for the team. Sometimes to get rid of the disease you have to cut out the infection.

 

photo via Wikimedia.org