Why Deron Williams Struggled With Nets


The marriage between Deron Williams and the Nets organization has finally come to its anticipated end with both sides reaching a buyout agreement on Friday.

But with Williams failing to meet any of the hopeful expectations laid upon him over nearly four and a half long years following his acquisition from the Utah Jazz in February 2011, the question as to why this once-elite point guard continuously broke the hearts of the Brooklyn Nets and its fans will be debated for years to come.

Some will say it was the endless ankle injuries. Some will give Jerry Sloan and his system the credit for taking Williams to a level he was forever incapable of matching under Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins.

Some will argue that being the center of a game of Musical Coaches was overbearing for Williams. Some will point out the fact that simply living and playing in New York – even on a horrendous team like the Knicks – is not for everyone. Especially when given a five-year, $98 million contract.

There is, however, one other case to be made for what went could’ve wrong with Deron Williams. One that focuses on how things really began going south after another colossal trade was completed.

Let’s rewind back to the summer of 2012. Williams had just completed his first full season with the Nets during the organization’s final year in New Jersey. His production was exactly what the Nets had hoped for after dealing lottery pick Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, two first round draft picks and $3 million in cash to Utah the previous year – 21 points, 8.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

As he prepared for free agency that summer, the Nets knew they couldn’t let Williams walk away.

Not only did the team desperately need a franchise player following five consecutive losing seasons, but the long-awaited move back to the New York market (the Nets originated in Long Island) was enough reason to lock up Williams and his star-power for the long-haul.

The nearly $100 million contract was completed, but owner Mikhail Prokhorov craved more.
Much, much more.

The Dwight Howard-for-Brook Lopez rumors came at unthinkable speeds that offseason, but the Nets ultimately decided to go in a different direction by signing Lopez to a four-year, $61 million deal on July 11th.

Brooklyn set its eyes on Atlanta’s Joe Johnson that same day. A deal with the Hawks was cemented, and the Nets had suddenly built themselves a Big Three after witnessing the Miami Heat blueprint of teaming up Dwyane Wade alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh make quick work of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the most recent NBA Finals.

Gerald Wallace was also re-signed by Nets general manager Billy King to a four-year, $40 million deal on July 11th, only adding to the buzz taking place throughout Brooklyn.

Yet, with the Nets last postseason appearance occurring in 2007, Year One for this group wasn’t accompanied by true championship aspirations. Brooklyn simply knew it had the makings of a playoff team and understood this would be the first step of the title process.

Despite being embarrassed at home in Game 7 of the first round against a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls squad that postseason, Williams’ game did not experience unfathomable decline. In fact, although his 2012-2013 season averages dipped to 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per contest, Williams improved to 44 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 percent from the three-point line after shooting 40.7 percent from the floor and a clip of 33.6 percent from deep the previous season.

Williams didn’t perform like a superstar, but the addition of another former All-Star in Johnson called for sacrifice.

Then everything changed that June.

The Nets sent shockwaves throughout the league on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft by trading _ to the Boston Celtics for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. At that point Brooklyn was not only loaded with depth, but also saddled with immediate championship expectations.

That’s when the real decline of Williams began. When New Yorkers began craving a championship with him leading the way.

Pierce and Garnett brought excellent veteran leadership to the Nets, but neither of them were expected to run the show or infuse boatloads of points into the lineup at these late stages of their careers. Williams still had superstar responsibilities to live up to, and questions about them being too much for him to handle began to arrive, as he averaged just 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game. Williams also attempted 11.2 field goal attempts per night, the lowest mark since his rookie season of 10.1 FGA.

As the presence of Pierce and Garnett mounted championship-or-bust pressure upon the Nets, ankle injuries plagued Williams during the course of the season and limited him to 64 games. Brooklyn reached the playoffs once again and defeated the Toronto Raptors in seven before Miami ended erased the Nets in a five-game semi-finals series.

Williams received somewhat of a pass in 2013-2014 due to the ankle injuries, but after undergoing procedures on both ankles that summer, hopes of Williams returning to elite form resumed.
Pierce signed with the Washington Wizards in free agency before this past season, but with the core of Williams, Lopez, Johnson and Garnett still intact and the Eastern Conference appearing weaker than usual, Brooklyn was justified in hopes of continuing postseason ascension.

Williams played in 68 games as the Nets went just 38-44 in their first season under coach Lionel Hollins and were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks following six games. Williams finished the regular season with just 13 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting a dismal 38.7 percent from the field. He also failed to score more than five points in three postseason contests against the Hawks.

It became abundantly clear at that point that both Williams and the Nets needed to go their separate ways.

There’s no shortage of opinions to be made about why he fell off the way he did with the Nets, but there’s also no ignoring how cliff-like the fall became once the blockbuster deal with Boston was completed in 2013 and the burden of bringing a title to Brooklyn became realer than ever for the projected savior the Nets once envisioned Deron Williams could be.

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