When the Nets traded for Deron Williams from the Jazz in 2011, it seemed like a coup. Coming on the heels of the summer of 2010 and around the same time as Carmelo Anthony‘s trade to the Knicks, the then-New Jersey Nets were seen as making a splash of their own, landing a legitimate superstar as they were on the verge of a 2012 move to Brooklyn.
It didn’t work out that way: Williams re-signed in 2012, but he was never the player he was in Utah, dealing with ankle injuries and putting up disappointing numbers, and the Nets were never able to make it past the second round of the playoffs.
Now, a couple months after Williams’ buyout with the Nets and return home to Dallas, CBS’ Ken Berger has some insight into why things went so badly wrong for the Deron era in Brooklyn:
The massive expectations that came with the Nets’ historic payroll and luxury-tax payouts during the D-Will era didn’t help, either — nor did the Nets’ ever-spinning coaching carousel. Over five seasons in Newark and Brooklyn, including the end of the ’10-11 season following the trade, Williams played for four coaches: Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins. If Williams thought that he didn’t need coaching from the great Jerry Sloan, one can imagine how sideline instability may not have made for the best environment in his new home.
“The coaching rotating door really hurt him,” a person close to Williams said. “You had a different style offense and defense every year.”
Faced with a leadership vacuum, Williams retreated.
“Your point guard is your quarterback and your leader, and I don’t think he ever embraced that,” one of the people familiar with his Nets tenure said. “He was happier when the limelight was off him.”
Limelight or not, one factor that cannot be ignored in Williams’ swift decline is his health. At the height of his powers, Williams’ game was all about physical dominance, lateral quickness and straight-line speed to the basket. None of those things is possible without healthy legs.
It’s easy to see how this happened, considering where the rest of the league’s stars’ heads were at. LeBron James and Chris Bosh had both recently left their small-market teams for Miami; Amar’e Stoudemire left Phoenix for New York; Anthony had just forced a trade to the Knicks; and in the next 18 months, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard would both wind up in Los Angeles. If you’re an NBA superstar, it seemed like finding your way onto a big-market team was just what you were supposed to do eventually. Williams had been making some noise during the 2010-11 season about wanting to join Stoudemire and Anthony in New York, and the Jazz cut their losses and dealt him to Brooklyn for what turned out to be a pretty solid return. But not everybody is cut out to be the marquee guy in a big market; that isn’t an indictment of Williams, it’s just the reality that everybody’s personality is different and some people are more suited to that level of spotlight. He found that out the hard way.
He may have gone to another big market with the Mavericks this summer, but expectations are much lower in Dallas for him than they ever were in Brooklyn. Nobody thinks the Mavs are a title contender — they’re just hoping to be respectable for Dirk Nowitzki‘s final two years. If Williams can’t stay healthy, he’ll have company: Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons are both coming off major injuries as well. And if he does play well in his new home and has the Mavs pushing for a playoff spot, he will be able to consider the season a success.
It was never going to work out in Brooklyn. But that doesn’t mean Williams’ career is hopeless.