Today, a new era begins.
Today, as the Nets take on the Spurs in San Antonio, today, after the most surprising trade featuring the Nets since the Vince Carter deal, today, the newer-look Nets take the floor. No more waiting for Brook Lopez or Devin Harris to assume the role of alpha dog. No more hoping that a Nets player one day becomes a superstar. No, the Nets finally have a de facto, unquestioned leader on the floor, and his name is Deron Williams.
I’ve said many times over the past few months that Devin Harris was nearing the end of his time in a New Jersey Nets uniform, for better or for worse. Despite how much he’d accomplished for this team, it was clear that a Harris-led New Jersey wasn’t going to any high places, and with his name constantly in trade rumors he’d become frustrated and disgruntled with the team over the course of the season. I’m not sure if he ever officially requested a trade, but I know he didn’t have to. He was as good as gone as Troy Murphy. I was just pleasantly and utterly shocked after hearing buzzes of Andre Miller and Caron Butler that the Nets ended with Deron Williams.
In his 212 regular season games in a Nets uniform, Harris amassed 3,747 points, 1,473 assists, and at least a half-dozen amazing moments – including the most unforgettable buzzer-beater I think I’ll ever see. I appreciate all Devin did for this franchise, and I wish him well.
And look, no one is a bigger Derrick Favors fan than me. I’d be surprised if anyone in the world – including Nets scouts – watched as much film of him as I did, concentrated on him every game as much as I did, and advocated for his future as much as I did. I still think he’s going to be a star, and that the Jazz got a great prospect.
But if you’re trading a guy who’s going to be a star, you trade him for a legit star. I’m talking a guy who’s great on his own and makes his co-conspirators better, too. The Nets did that this offseason. They may be the only team that did.
For the Nets, Williams is obviously a massive upgrade – he’s arguably the best point guard in the league, and at worst, the second-best. When a team adds a guy like that, there’s a complete change in team chemistry. After this trade, I got my hands on some Deron Williams game tape out of curiosity. I took a look at a lot of video on Synergy, but I specifically watched the November 26th game against Los Angeles. And I saw what I thought I’d see: an unbelievable player. D-Will is a guy who’s highly skilled both with and off the ball, who can create his own shot or work off the pick & roll, and who looks to run the fast break often. Because of his size, he’s able to defend multiple positions, and is a matchup nightmare for teams with small point guards. He makes no wasted movements – he picks his spots and does what’s necessary to play at the highest level. With him on the floor, you can expect the production of Brook Lopez & Anthony Morrow to benefit. He’s not Jason Kidd, despite the comparisons – Kidd was a better rebounder and defender, while Deron uses his scoring ability to create team opportunities. Thus, this isn’t the second coming of the Jason Kidd era. It’s the first coming of the Deron Williams era.
Deron Williams will step on a floor today in San Antonio, against the best team in the NBA, wearing a New Jersey Nets jersey. Whether he is with the franchise two years from now is another matter. In his introductory press conference, one of his stipulations for wanting to be here long-term was the franchise’s ability to recruit other great players. He does not want to go the route of Kidd or Steve Nash, toiling too long on a great team that was never transcendent and missing the boat on a championship-laden prime.
So yes, in the future, Deron is a question mark. The Nets have their work cut out for them. But for now, he is an exclamation point. Let’s enjoy the ride. It starts tonight at 8:30.