Deron Williams will make his return to Brooklyn for the first time since agreeing to a buyout with the team this past offseason on Wednesday, now as a third banana on the Dallas Mavericks.
Williams’s Brooklyn Nets career — from franchise player to franchise albatross — has been widely dissected from almost every conceivable angle: what the fans thought of him, what management thought of him, what former teammates thought of him, and how he felt while he was with the Nets. But Williams has only spoken sparingly on the matter himself, until now, telling Michael Lee of Yahoo! that his years in Brooklyn were “some of the hardest in (his) life.”
Leaning back to have bags of ice wrapped around both knees after a recent morning shootaround, Williams reluctantly reflected on a place he couldn’t wait to escape – even if it meant leaving millions on the table.
“It took a lot out of me, man, those three years. Some of the hardest in my life,” Williams told Yahoo Sports of his time in Brooklyn. “Made me question if I even wanted to play basketball when I was done with that contract.”
It’s a bit of a misnomer that Williams left “millions” on the table to leave Brooklyn — his buyout ($27.5 million) and his two-year contract with the Mavericks ($10 million) nearly add up to the $43 million Williams had left on his deal, and he’ll likely make more than the remainder up when he sells his pricy TriBeCa penthouse.
But Williams’s time in Brooklyn fell far below everyone’s expectations: his own, the team’s, and the fans. Williams recalled how everything fell apart, noting the pressure of playing in New York, and even made mention of the “Missing” posters that fans put up around Barclays Center when times were at their lowest.
As he prepares for his first game back at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Williams isn’t upset by the prevailing sentiment that he was unable to handle playing in New York.
“It’s cool. There’s a lot of people, I guess, who aren’t built for New York,” Williams told Yahoo. “New York is not for everybody.”
“I wish I wouldn’t have been hurt. I wish I would’ve played better and people didn’t feel like I was just stealing money. That’s the last thing I want people to feel like,” Williams told Yahoo. “It didn’t work out the way anybody had hoped.”
But Williams, who had a chance to go to home and play in Dallas during the 2012 free agency process, doesn’t think things would’ve been much different had he decided to bolt for the Mavericks in 2012.
“You know, you can always think, what ifs? But you never know. I probably still would’ve been hurt. Still would’ve had to have ankle surgeries on both ankles. So you never know,” Williams told Yahoo. “Being hurt takes a toll on you. You’ve got expectations being put on you. ‘Missing’ posters being put up all around New York. It’s just a lot of pressure there. Not only from the outside, but pressure I put on myself. But I feel like there is not much pressure now.”
It’s an interesting thought experiment: what would have happened to the Nets had Williams decided to bolt? They probably still make the deal for Joe Johnson, who they’d agreed to acquire just before meeting with Williams in 2012 free agency. But they also probably don’t make The Blockbuster Trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, which means they keep most of their draft picks and build differently. It’s a rabbit hole that’s impossible to follow.
Williams also played under four coaches in three seasons in Brooklyn: Avery Johnson, interim P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, and Lionel Hollins. The continuity was an issue for Williams, and he cited the stability with Rick Carlisle at the helm in Dallas as an issue. Williams has also had clashes with coaches in the past, most notably Jerry Sloan in Utah.
“Like I said, I knew things would’ve been different if I wouldn’t have been hurt. And wouldn’t have had four coaches in three and a half years. Wouldn’t have had to learn a new system every six months,” Williams told Yahoo. “But things happen for a reason. It’s all God’s plan. That part of my life is over. And I can focus on this. It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m excited about this.”
Williams also isn’t the first player to bemoan his time in Brooklyn. Paul Pierce, who’s had no shortage of criticisms for Williams himself, called his time in Brooklyn “horrible.” Jason Kidd had an obvious falling out with Nets management. Mirza Teletovic, now in Phoenix, said he was misused in multiple offensive schemes. That’s what happens when the pressure of a new team in a new city gets coupled with $190 million in salary & luxury tax payments.
Read the full interview over at Yahoo!.