In the summer of 2012, the Dallas Mavericks tried their best to sign a then-27-year-old Deron Wiliams. It seemed like a perfect fit. Dallas was one year removed from an NBA title, Dirk Nowitzki was in the prime of his career, the Mavericks needed a point guard to replace the aging legend Jason Kidd and Williams was fresh off his fourth straight All-Star Game appearance. Dallas was even the point guard’s hometown. It was almost a foregone conclusion.
Alas, it was not to be. The Nets backed the truck up and offered Williams a $98M pile of money to stick around. Fast forward three years, however, and after a falling out and substantial buyout from the Nets, Williams finally landed in Big D. He’s now in the midst of an unexpected career renaissance this season. To fully appreciate how surprising the point guard’s success has been in Dallas, we have to look back at his mostly disappointing career with the Nets.
As mentioned, Williams spurned the Mavericks’ advances to stick with the Nets in 2011. Traded from Utah in a blockbuster deal in 2011, Williams was coming off a 21 point-per-game season in his first full year with the Nets. As they prepared to move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, the Nets were ready to do anything to keep him and make D-Will the face of the franchise.
To convince Williams to stay, the Nets executed a massive trade to give Williams a solid wingman, landing six-time All-Star Joe Johnson. This trade, along with the nearly $20M a year offer, convinced Williams to forget Texas and sign on with the Nets for the next five years.
Despite making the playoffs over the next three years, Brooklyn was a mess. They flipped through four different head coaches: Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins. General manager Billy King kept mortgaging the future for a shot to win now. He brought in aging veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Gerald Wallace, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, to name a few, all in hopes of winning an NBA title.
All the chaos in the coaching staff and the turnstile-like nature of the roster was an anchor around the franchise’s neck, dragging the team’s record with it. Unfortunately for Williams, much of the blame for the slide fell on his shoulders. A former All-Star, the point guard’s numbers weren’t up to expectations. Also, being paid like a superstar, many in the organization expected him to be the leader in the locker room as well as on the court.
Paul Pierce called Williams out in an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan last season:
“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once [Kevin Garnett and I] got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want to be that.”
“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his 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.”
While his teammates and the Nets’ front office were disappointed by Williams’s lack of leadership, the problem wouldn’t have become an issue if not for his lack of production.
In 2012-13, his first year under the five-year deal, Williams had a successful season as he averaged 18.9 points, 7.7 assists, and a career-high 2.2 three-pointers per game. The following two years, however, were an absolute bust and tarnished his reputation in the Association.
Plagued by multiple injuries from 2013-15, primarily wrist and ankle problems, the point guard missed over 30 games and came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season way back in 2005-06. He also averaged only 13.6 points and 6.4 assists in the two years, bottoming out in 2014-15 with a horrific 38.7 percent shooting from the field.
The Nets believed relying on Williams for the remainder of his deal was a lost cause and that both sides were in desperate need for a fresh start. The $27.5M the organization paid Williams to go away showed just how desperate the Nets were for the 31-year-old point guard to be off the roster.
On a recent trip back to New York, Williams met with the New York media for the first time since signing with Dallas and discussed his Nets career (via ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo):
“It just never went well, I don’t think. It felt like everybody felt I was the problem, and so now I’m gone,” the Nets’ former $98 million man said after scoring 20 points and dishing out seven assists in the Dallas Mavericks’ 104-97 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Expectations were high. I was injured pretty much the whole time I was there,” Williams said. “Four coaches in 3½ years doesn’t help as a point guard with chemistry and things like that and just constant change. It just didn’t work out.”
Due to the way his tenure in Brooklyn ended and coach Rick Carlisle’s recent rocky history with points guards (see Rajon Rondo), many reasonably believed Williams would see his NBA career fade away in Dallas. To the contrary, while the numbers aren’t staggering, being out of the relative spotlight has allowed Williams to bounce back this season.
Through 23 games, Williams is averaging 15.3 points, good for second on the team. His 6.0 assists in 33.4 minutes per game are both team highs as well. Pedestrian numbers compared to his Utah days, but light years better than his last two seasons in Brooklyn.
He also has shown he still has some explosiveness left in his tired legs:
D-Will's first dunk since April 5, 2014. pic.twitter.com/bWifsdSu7E
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) November 23, 2015
Being used as a complementary scorer and not as the focal point of the offense has allowed Williams to boost his shooting percentages across the board. His true shooting percentage of 55 percent is right on par with the 55.6 percent he averaged during his All-Star run of 2009-12. In fact, the point guard’s 92.9 percent success rate from the line this year isn’t only a career-high but good enough to rank second in the NBA.
Finally happy after a few miserable years in Brooklyn, Williams has put all the negativity behind him (via Mazzeo):
“There’s nothing you can do. It’s over. I’m past all that. I’m onto a new chapter. I wish things were different — would have happened differently, but they didn’t. I can’t dwell on it, just move forward and I think that’s what I’ve done.”
“[Dallas] has been great for me. It’s been great for my family. [There’s] a lot more positivity in Dallas, and I think I needed that in my life.”
Carmelo Anthony seems to think Williams is in the right place (via Mazzeo):
“He looked comfortable. He got away from New York,” Knicks max player Carmelo Anthony said. “Some people can handle it and some people can’t. He’s a guy who needed to get away from this where he can be himself and get some clarity and get back to Deron Williams that we all used to love.”
The longer Williams is with Dallas, the more it becomes obvious Melo is right. In the month of December, D-Will is averaging 20.2 points, 7.2 assists, and 2.4 threes per game while making 45 percent of his field goal attempts. He also has three 20-plus-point nights in his last five games, including a 30-point performance in an overtime win in Portland.
More importantly to the Mavericks, the club is winning. D-Will’s inspired play has Dallas surprising the league with a 13-10 record., leaving them one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for third in the Western Conference and putting them in prime position to defy the preseason odds and make the playoffs this season.
While he may never be an All-Star again, Williams has his career pointed in the right direction. His performance this season has revitalized his sagging career, something that many in Brooklyn and the NBA never thought was possible.