Finding Deron Williams a doorway out, as he reportedly wants, feels like the right thing to do. The Nets want to separate themselves from his contract, his moodiness, and Williams as a symbol of the team’s underperformance.
Williams reportedly wants to return to his hometown Dallas to play with the Mavericks, despite Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s non-comments about Williams in 2013 — when asked if he’d “intentionally sabotaged” his chances at signing Williams as a free agent by missing the team’s meeting to film a television show, Cuban responded, “Did you see that episode of ‘Shark Tank’ I filmed that day? It was amazing.”
You can also get a general sense of Nets fan sentiment by running a Twitter search on his name. Warning: it’s not pretty.
But a buyout seems odd as a standalone move. If the Nets aren’t going to pay Williams $43 million to not play, as David Aldridge reported, why would they pay him a significant portion of that — one speculated number is $30 million — to not play? If there was “zero chance” the Nets would stretch Deron Williams at a rate of $8.6 million per season, is $6 million per season that much more palatable?[note]Obviously the number is speculative — the more money the Nets can cut off Williams’s deal, the better the deal becomes.[/note]
The luxury tax does matter to the Nets, and stretching a bought-out Williams would get them under with another small move or two. But they’re in no danger of hitting the repeater tax next season due to the rising cap, so the only financial hit would only be an issue this year.
Finding Williams a way out also requires a contingency plan, and it’s tough to say they have a workable solution at this point.
The Nets have spent the last few weeks stockpiling point guards. With Jarrett Jack already under contract, they then traded for Steve Blake on draft night in the deal that netted them Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Nets GM Billy King called Shane Larkin shortly after midnight on July 1 to recruit him to Brooklyn, and signed undrafted rookie Ryan Boatright inked a non-guaranteed, multi-year deal not much later.
But the Nets have been better with Williams on the floor than without since they came to Brooklyn, and each of those replacements come with issues. Jack notoriously had one of the league’s worst plus-minus figures last season, torpedoing possessions with a barrage of mid-range jumpers. The 35-year-old Blake isn’t a facilitator and offers little scoring beyond the occasional three-pointer. Larkin has potential but produced meager numbers for a 17-win Knicks team that didn’t suit his style.
There are options. If the Nets do cut ties with Williams, they could look to get a point guard in return for Joe Johnson, who has value on the market as a talented player and expiring contract. Or, if they convince the Mavericks to take on the last two years of Williams’s contract sans buyout, they could welcome back former New Jersey Net Devin Harris in a trade, who’s currently on the Mavericks.
They’ll need something. Every loss the Nets rack up next season — and with Williams gone, more will come — sends their draft pick deeper and deeper into the lottery, where the division rival Boston Celtics will reap the rewards — the Nets sent their unprotected 2016 pick to the Celtics in the Garnett-Pierce trade. If they send Williams to the Mavericks for free, they also make it more likely that the Mavericks won’t tank, and they give up their draft pick to the Celtics, since the Celtics get Dallas’s pick if it falls out of the top seven.
It’s entirely possible that the relationship has reached the point of no return. This seems to be what Williams & the Nets both want. But if the Nets want to get value for Williams, giving him most of what he wants for nothing but a few million dollars of relief seems like a shortsighted move, unless they have something else in the works to remain competitive.