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Deron Williams Turns Back Clock with Mavs

Deron Williams discusses his departure from the Nets and how the fourth-place Mavericks are defying odds.

Moke Hamilton profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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With a lightning quick crossover dribble, Deron Williams went from left to right. His defender, seemingly dazed and confused, was lost. Williams stepped behind the three-point line and launched a 25-foot jump shot. By the time it had found the bottom of the net, Williams—confident that the shot would fall—was already half way back up the floor.

Oddly reminiscent of a better time, the former All-Star has turned the corner and the page on his tenure as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. And although the onlookers left his basketball career for dead, rumors of Williams’ demise were greatly exaggerated. And rest assured, he is laughing last.

“It’s over,” Williams said of his time in Brooklyn. “I’m past all that and I’m on to a new chapter. I wish things were different and happened differently, but they didn’t. You can’t dwell on it, you can only move forward and I think that’s what I’ve done.”

Indeed, in moving forward, Williams has seemingly turned back the clock.

* * * * *

Back in 2011, within the span of 48 hours, everything had changed.

As it had become known that Carmelo Anthony had his eyes on a return to the city of his birth, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets engaged the Denver Nuggets in what became a very public negotiation for Anthony. The Nets would obviously lose, but the disappointment was short-lived when, merely 48 hours after Anthony’s arrival, general manager Billy King and assistant general manager Bobby Marks pulled off a blockbuster for Deron Williams.

Together, Anthony and Williams would be charged with resurrecting their respective franchises and reviving basketball in a city that has been haunted by mostly imprudent management and failed get-rich-quick-basketball schemes.

In February 2011, with King and head coach Avery Johnson flanking him at New Jersey’s PNY Center, for Williams, excitement reigned supreme.

“It’s good to be here and I’m excited about being a Net,” Williams told the assembled media almost five years ago.

“Seeing the direction that they wanted to go in and the vision that they had for this organization just really got me excited. It got me excited about the possibilities of competing for a championship over the next couple of years.”

In the end, we now know that the lofty expectations that awaited Williams in New Jersey and later in Brooklyn would go unfulfilled. And when the Nets made the decision to pay Williams to go away this past summer, the NBA world expected him to fade into obscurity.

Instead, he has helped the Mavericks become one of the surprise teams early in the 2015-16 NBA season.

“It feels good,” Williams told Basketball Insiders about the Mavericks defying the odds thus far this season. “I think any team will tell you that you try to tune out what people have expectation-wise for you, you just kinda go about your business.

“We felt like we had a good team, there were a lot of variables—a lot of guys coming off of injuries, a lot of guys missing training camp, myself included—so we didn’t know how fast it would come together or how fast it would click and I think, at this point in the season, we’re a little head of schedule. But we still have a lot of work to do and we can still improve.”

Entering play on December 8, only six Western Conference teams have winning records, and after being left at the altar by DeAndre Jordan, few would have expected the Mavericks to have been one such ball club.

“I expected him to play great and he has,” head coach Rick Carlisle said of Williams. “He’s a great player. The things that he’s battled the last couple of years have been health issues… Double ankle surgery two years ago and other nagging injuries. He’s worked extremely hard to push through those things and get himself on the uptick, but hard work is paying off for him.”

Like Pau Gasol and, to a lesser extent this year, Rajon Rondo, Williams is once again proving true the simple theory that happy players perform better. A change of scenery can do wonders for an athlete. As the years progressed, Williams and his on-court productivity deteriorated and he was never able to rediscover the energy and spirit that he harnessed in his first 12 games as a Net, when he averaged 12.8 assists per game.

Eventually, his play began to stink as much as his attitude, and Williams eventually revealed himself as someone who wasn’t quite comfortable with the crushing expectations and blunt criticism that awaited a centi-million dollar player who was charged with resurrecting a franchise.

In many ways, Anthony will forever be linked with Williams. Regarded as two of the top players in the league, they found new homes in New York City merely days a part. There, though, is where the comparison ends.

Say what you want about Anthony, but from day one, after willingly accepting the spotlight in New York City, he has accepted everything that has come along with it. Win or lose, 62 points or 3-for-20 shooting night, Anthony always shows up, holds his head high and accepts accountability for his shortcomings. It’s called mental toughness, and a special type is required to succeed in New York City. Anthony is one of the few players who has an informed opinion as to what that burden feels like.

“He looked comfortable,” Anthony said after getting a glimpse of Deron Williams when the newest Maverick returned to New York City in early December.

“He got away from New York,” Anthony added with a chuckle. “Some people can handle it, some people can’t. He was a guy who needed to get away from this [and go] where he can kind of be himself and get some clarity and get back to the Deron Williams that we all used to love.”

Aside from sharing the city with Williams for about four years, Anthony and Williams spent time together playing for Team USA, most notably as members of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

One of the major differences between Anthony and Williams and their stories, though, is that Anthony willingly chose to come to New York, even meeting with team brass and negotiating a contract extension as a condition precedent to his eventual extend-and-trade agreement with the Nuggets.

Williams, on the other hand, was—in his own words—blindsided by the trade and first heard the news of his divestment from a television report that he heard while getting treatment among his teammates. And although Williams ultimately opted to re-sign with the Nets, it was a decision that he would probably reconsider if given the opportunity.

“It’s been a great move for me,” Williams said of his relocating to Dallas. “Just being a part of this organization and this team has been great for me and just having a fresh start.”

Anthony knows a thing or two about fresh starts, as well.

“It could rejuvenate you, mentally, emotionally,” Anthony said of Williams and his flight to Dallas. “For him, it was just more of kinda getting away from this, getting away from New York. [Williams] seems like he’s comfortable out there in Dallas. When he’s on the court, he’s a different kind of D-Will than we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons, so you can tell that he has some kind of mental clarity where he feels comfortable again.”

“It just never went well, I think,” Williams agreed. “Everybody felt I was the problem, now I’m gone, I can be a part of another organization where I feel like I’m better suited. I feel like they need a point guard like me a little bit better here and I’m able to flourish and have the ball in my hands a little bit more and it’s been great for me, it’s been great for my family. There’s been a lot more positivity in Dallas and I think I needed that in my life.”

Whatever it is that Williams needed, rest assured, Mark Cuban is happy that he’s found it.

After 22 games in Dallas, on the court, Williams has resembled the player that he was when he was arguably the finest point guard in the entire league. Spry and engaged, Williams has rediscovered his ability as one of the best pick-and-roll floor generals in the NBA, and he has had almost immediate success and chemistry with Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews.

His 15 points per game is a slight improvement over last season’s 13 points per game, and his shooting percentage has taken a marginal step forward as well. Most importantly, though, is the fact that Williams simply seems more comfortable and relaxed with not shouldering the burden of being a franchise player or someone whose poor performances or underwhelming results cause dissection and criticism.

For the first time in a long time—perhaps since his days as a member of the Utah Jazz—Williams can simply focus on playing basketball. And that is a major part of the reason why he chose to return home to Dallas in the first place.

As the Mavericks continue along as one of the surprise teams of the season, they will have an opportunity to be great so long as Nowitzki plays efficient basketball. Like Williams, Nowitzki has been experiencing a bounce back as well.

Back in July, when the Mavericks lost out on DeAndre Jordan, most onlookers thought that when Jordan left his home in a Houston suburb and traveled back to Los Angeles to remain with the Clippers, that he took Cuban’s hopes of qualifying for the playoffs with him. However, entering play on December 8, the Mavericks are above the Clippers in the standings, as L.A. is currently fifth in the Western Conference.

Yes, when Jordan fled Texas and traveled back to Los Angeles, he indirectly assisted the Mavericks with their acquisition of Williams. Shortly thereafter, we theorized as to whether the Mavericks might be better off in the long run.

With the spirited play of Williams and their early-season thriving as one of the league’s top teams, at least in the early going, it’s difficult to argue with the results. Based on what we have seen over the course of the first 22 games for the Mavericks, Williams looks nothing like the player that Nets fans last saw. In 2014-15, Williams seemed to lack effort and passion, and he managed some of his lowest outputs since his rookie season, including shooting just 38.7 percent from the field.

“Expectations were high,” Williams said of his time in Brooklyn. “I was injured pretty much the whole time I was there. Four coaches in three and a half years didn’t help. As a point guard, with chemistry and things like that, there was constant change and it just didn’t work out.”

Now, with a fresh start, Williams appears rejuvenated.

Blink, and in a New York minute, he may have crossed you over and drilled a jump shot in your face.

Sometimes, in life, you have to take a step back to take a step forward. And after passing on signing with the Mavericks when he was a free agent back in July 2012, Williams is taking advantage of his new opportunity.

Evidently, there truly is no place like home.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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