We’re looking back at the series of major decisions that led to the current state of the Nets, and asking you: if you could go back, would you do it again?
Today comes the last — and first — one: we cover the decision to trade for Deron Williams.
The story: The Nets, in the midst of yet another floundering season, had just missed out on acquiring Carmelo Anthony, who had all but forced his way to the New York Knicks. Nets general manager Billy King called then-Utah Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor, and the two began talking trade. Soon after, the Nets agreed to send Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and two first-round draft picks[note]which became Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng, the latter traded to Minnesota[/note] for then-superstar point guard Deron Williams. Williams was shocked by the deal, which he learned of watching SportsCenter, and openly admitted he had trepidation about playing for the woeful 18-40 Nets upon his arrival.
18 months later, the Nets re-signed Williams to a five-year contract worth the maximum $98 million, after some speculation that he would leave before the team moved to Brooklyn. But the Nets never competed seriously for a championship, despite the hopes that Williams would be the team’s leader on that route.
The Case Against Trading For Deron Williams: One reason? How about $119.5 million of them? That’s how much the Nets are slated to pay Williams in salary, from the day they traded for him through the end of the five-year max deal he signed back in 2012.
Williams failed to lived up to those lofty expectations, only playing dominant basketball for a brief three-month stretch in 2013 after undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and cortisone shots in his ankles. Before and after, Williams has looked like an above-average point guard at best, and more often has been a non-factor who struggles to make shots and attack the basket with purpose.
Williams’s diminishing on-court value and his struggles to stay on the floor to make a significant impact have been a symbol of the franchise’s struggles to make it to the next level of championship competitiveness.
The Case For Trading For Deron Williams: The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately” league, but that sharp perception of the present can cloud the past. Williams was this team’s best player for most of the 2012-13 season, their first year in Brooklyn and first year the team was trying to be competitive since 2007. After undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and cortisone shots over the 2013 All-Star break, Williams returned with a vengeance, averaging 22.9 points and eight assists per game with a shooting split of .481-.420-.866. Even last season, with the Nets floundering until they settled on a new lineup, Williams still had the best on-off court numbers on the team by a wide margin, and his offensive RPM (described as a “player’s estimated on-court impact on team offensive performance, measured in points scored per 100 offensive possessions“) ranked seventh in the entire NBA, among the NBA’s elite players.
But more than that: if you turn back time, you’re not just losing Deron Williams. You’re also losing every move made with the post-Deron Williams philosophy to win at all costs. That means no Joe Johnson, and no Joe Johnson game-winners. No Paul Pierce first-round heroics. The Nets enter Brooklyn with Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, another point guard (Andre Miller?) to replace Devin Harris, and a smattering of prospects. It’s impossible to really know what the team would look like right now, because every move since that day has been a result of that original deal.
So put the original reasoning aside (that the Nets had just missed out on Carmelo Anthony and wanted to make a splash). This isn’t just trading away Deron Williams. It’s asking for a hard reset on the entire roster for the last five years. That could mean development and progression, but it also means giving up the three-month stretch in 2013 when Williams was arguably the best point guard in the NBA, two guaranteed playoff seasons, Nets-Raptors Game 7, Joe Johnson’s game-winners… None of that happens if we don’t start here.
Is it worth it?