In the spring of 2009, Deron Williams was the best point guard in the NBA. His 21.1 PER, his 10.7 assists per game, his ungodly assist percentage of 47.8, his 19.4 points per game on 47% shooting, and his leading his team into the playoffs said so. Williams had the advantage over every other point guard he faced. He was bigger and stronger. He could take smaller guards in the paint, overpower them and score, often drawing a foul. He could drive and blow by and finish in traffic. He could drain a long two or a three, mostly uncontested because of actions in the paint that left him wide open. He was the leader of the Utah Jazz. If Jerry Sloan made the Jazz go on the bench then Deron Williams was their energy drink, the best player, and by everyone’s account, marching towards a Hall of Fame career.
Eight years later, Deron Williams is searching for a job. He is a free agent this summer after being a free agent last summer after being bought out by the Brooklyn Nets the summer before, the max player who crumbled both body and mind. Deron Williams is the 10th lottery pick in the 2005 draft lottery not under contract. That lottery will only produce one Hall of Famer player and it is not Deron Williams but Chris Paul.
But, it was Deron Williams and not Chris Paul who made it to the NBA Finals in June, traded a few months earlier from Dallas to Cleveland. It was the best chance Williams had to win a title, albeit as a bench player. In game one, he missed every shot. In game two, he missed every shot. In game three, he missed every shot. In game four, he broke out of his 0-11 streak and made 2 out of 3 shots. But, in game 5 he missed all his shots. He shot 12.5% for the series, and 11.1% from three. His 1.0 points was only surpassed by James Jones who didn’t score at all. He averaged 1.2 assists in 12.2 minutes. His offensive rating was 40. His defensive rating was 122. He was plain as day, cover your eyeballs awful.
He is still looking for a job and his 2017 Finals failure is probably why. We remember what we see last. And if it’s horrible, that bad taste in the mouth lingers. The feeling that Williams is an old player with nothing left in his legs is a common one. Or to be blunt, he’s all washed up. Eventually All-Star players fall into the group of he used to be this, now he is that. Their talent disappears into the vault of ordinariness. Because extraordinary used to be their middle name, it is long past who they were. Their body falls in line with their psyche, consistently disobedient. In this, the math is fair. It takes ten to twelve years before things start to slow.
Dwayne Wade. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Tim Duncan. They all had their games change once they became thirty plus, either because of repetitive injuries or because they were too damned old to play a young man’s game. Deron Williams is the one Olympian who became old when he was young. He was cursed in reverse. His Finals plunge into basketball victimhood was a testament to his sudden withdrawal.
But, oh I remember the spring of 2009. I remember Deron Williams. I remember 41 minutes and 26 points and 14 assists, and in a tie score in the 4th quarter, Williams dished a pass to Carlos Boozer and then to Ronnie Brewer to put the Jazz up by four. Two mid-range shots later taken by Williams sealed the victory over the Rockets.
I remember 24 points and 11 assists at OKC, nearly matching Kevin Durant’s 24 and 12. I remember 17 assists in the playoffs one night and 35 points the next.
It would be a Chris Paul moment in 2009. Williams wouldn’t get out of the first round, but it had less to do with him and more to do with the Lakers and their march for championship number 15. In fact, Williams was the best thing about the Utah Jazz and even after elimination, no one would have denied him a place in the hierarchy of the NBA.
With hindsight brilliance, it’s easy now to say Williams never should have left Utah, he never should have created tension with Jerry Sloan where he was the one blamed . He never should have created tension in New Jersey with Avery Johnson where he was the one blamed. It happened in Brooklyn too. He created tension and he was the one blamed by Paul Pierce. That responsibility lies with Williams and he has to take ownership of it. But I can’t get out of my head two things: the way it used to be and how it is now.
It’s not the Kobe Bryant 20 year in the league not much left in the body pathological dissolution that haunts Williams who wears a beard that makes him look even more like a stranger. Deron Williams is 33 years old. How is it possible then that this is all we have? How can he be 33 and have left so much on the table, so much unaccomplished?
|Deron Williams||Points Per Game||Assists||Assist Percentage||PER|
The player Williams will forever be compared to because Chris Paul was the player selected after Williams was taken #3 in the 2005 draft, the player he was supposed to be better than is still doing Chris Paul things. The Clippers never rose to the heights of a championship team with a player like Paul guiding them, but Paul has remained the best defensive point for the past ten years and is a top-5 overall point guard. He still gets his 18 points and 10 assists. His toughness is what Paul leads with. Like Williams, Paul has had injuries. He has had knee injuries and groin injuries but through it all he’s never forgotten he is one of the baddest point guards in the NBA.
Deron Williams though is invisible, not the same man, not even close.
|2005 Draft||Points||FG%||Assisis||All NBA 1st Team||Playoff Record (starter)|
|Deron Wiliams #3||16.3||44.5%||8.1||0||.418 (72 games)|
|Chris Paul #4||18.7||47.3%||9.9||4||.425(76 games)|
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that Deron Williams was supposed to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s later than you think is what Gautama Buddha used to say. But, no one is losing sleep over Deron Williams crashing his legacy against a brick wall. Or, that he will never meet the expectations of his talent. Or, that he is unemployed. He may never make a NBA roster again. He may go to China. He may try to wait it out for injuries to make him wanted but the writing is clear. It is August. Without a job means the NBA has passed him by. All he can expect are crumbs.
No tears for Deron Williams. This is the life. It’s how it is over time. For everybody. You leave by your choice. Or by theirs- if it’s theirs there is going to be cruelty. The NBA is cut throat that way, long memories, short careers, the door closes. Goodbye. And so in that vein, Buddha is right. It is later than you think.