By: Dylan Mendelowitz (@mendnba)
Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012, a day that would forever change the Brooklyn Nets franchise. After two years of gathering win-now talent to convince him to stay, Deron Williams announced via Twitter his intentions to resign with the Brooklyn, instead of signing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
Nearly two full years later, the results have been underwhelming. Williams has dealt with numerous ankle injuries, and his play has been less than stellar. Brooklyn has yet to receive the $100 million man they thought they were getting when Williams was signed to a max contract, and while they have made the playoffs both seasons, they have finished well below expectations (especially in year 2), getting eliminated in the first and second rounds in their first two seasons.
Deron’s poor play and injury struggles bring up countless questions, on and off the court. An interesting one: What if Deron actually did leave for Dallas? What would the Nets roster look like today? Would they be better off?
Before Deron made his decision to re-sign, the Nets made several moves, getting big time players to try and entice Williams to stay, leaving them with a few core pieces, whether he stayed or not. If Deron had bolted for Dallas, Brooklyn would have been left with a core of Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. A solid lineup, but nothing special. While some reports surfaced that the Joe Johnson trade was contingent on Deron’s resigning, the Nets were also hellbent on bringing a winner to Brooklyn immediately. The trade for Joe: floatsam of expiring contracts and draft pick swap options for Joe Johnson – fits Billy King’s M.O. and I believe it still would have went down.
Deron was far and away the best player, and specifically point guard on the free agent market. There were other decent options, however, many of which the Nets were expected to pursue had Deron left. These players include names like Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Goran Dragic, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and a few other notables. While none of these were labeled as “stars” (sans Nash, who was much older), most were solid backup plans if Williams decided to leave. The most likely of the bunch seemed to be Jeremy Lin, who was coming off a breakout performance as a New York Knick, and is a big name who became very popular all throughout the world. With the Nets intent on making a splash immediately in Brooklyn, and Goran Dragic nowhere near the level he is at now, my money is on Lin being Brooklyn’s first starting point guard had Deron bolted.
So say Deron left, and Brooklyn outbids Houston for the services of Jeremy Lin. This leaves them with a backcourt of Jeremy Lin and Joe Johnson, and a frontcourt containing Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. Not so good looking, eh?
Of course, we know ended up happening to each player in that projected lineup. Jeremy Lin went to Houston, and has been decent, but has not been the special force he was during Linsanity. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez worked out, as Johnson went on to become “Joe Jesus”, while Lopez became an All-Star. Wallace and Humphries, not as successful, as both have underwhelming seasons, the latter losing his starting job to Reggie Evans. While things could have worked out differently for each player if Deron really did leave, the lineup and roster looks less than stellar. Also notable: a key aspect to the trade for Pierce and Garnett was that both players desired playing with Deron. So last year’s team likely did not have them, Kirilenko (who came because of the trade), or Thornton (who was acquired for Terry, who came through the trade), if Deron is not here. Do the 2013-2014 Nets, who essentially finished as the east’s third or fourth best team, even make the playoffs without the Deron trade?
Perhaps the Nets could have been good without Deron, or even better than the Nets of this or last season. Maybe Jeremy Lin becomes an All-Star as a Net. Maybe Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries play better with Lin quarterbacking the offense. There’s really no way to tell, but whether it was Lin, Nash (what a disaster that would have been), Dragic or any other point guard available in the 2012 off-season, it doesn’t look as if the Nets roster would be better off without Deron.
It’s easy to blame Deron Williams for the Nets’ failures over the past two seasons. He hasn’t lived up to his contract or former “superstar” title, and in the world’s biggest sports market, New York City, Deron’s struggles have been even more evident and publicized. But the New York media and social media leads people to believe he’s been downright terrible.
Truth is, Deron has been an average point guard. Not great, not terrible, but average. Average play from the point guard, dealing with chronic ankle pain (being repaired with surgery this offseason), isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Sure, he isn’t living up to his max contract and hasn’t taken the Nets as far as they were expected to go, but he really hasn’t been THAT bad.
After dual ankle surgery this offseason, I expect Deron to come back strong next season. Will he ever be the Deron of Utah? Probably not. But a healthy Deron Williams, regaining his confidence and explosiveness, is still capable of being a very good basketball player. He doesn’t need to carry the team, he doesn’t need to be the superstar Deron, but a good Deron Williams, will lead to a good Brooklyn Nets team.
The Brooklyn Nets would not be a better basketball team with Deron Williams in Dallas. The player he would be replaced with would be significantly less talented and would not have made the Nets any better off. One year from now, all of this talk of the Nets being better off without him will be nonsense. Deron Williams will bounce back and have a good year next year.
You can hold me to that.