Deron Williams has had one of the most fascinating and unique careers ever in the NBA. You wouldn’t know it from watching him play this season, but the now backup to Kyrie Irving was once a part of the world’s greatest point guard debate along side CP3. How could the same player, who ranks 19th all time in career assists, has two 2nd-team all-NBA to his name also get waived by the Dallas Mavericks all within a 10 season & 3-team span?
Not only that, but he will now be playing in his first ever NBA finals exactly 10 years just 3 months after being cut by a 33-49 lottery team. His career has truly been the epitome of a wild and bumpy roller-coaster and I haven’t even mentioned the craziest circus of all which was his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets. Trust me we’ll get to that later. All of this and Williams hasn’t even turned 33 yet. Anyways, lets begin where it all started for D-Will:
After giving up the 6th and two other first round picks to move up to the 3rd pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz, who were coming off a lowly 56-loss 28th place season, selected University of Illinois point guard Deron Williams. Though he would end up finishing a measly 6th in the 2004-2005 Rookie of the Year voting (despite being the only person not named Chris Paul to get a first-place vote), D-Will along with Mehmet Okur & Carlos Boozer, who were both in year-2 of their respective Jazz tenures, led Utah to a 41-41 record good for 9th place in the West and 15-win improvement over the previous season. This was the beginning of a core built around the young budding point guard from Parkersburg, West Virginia.
The next year the 4th and last piece of the core of the late-2000s/early-2010s Utah Jazz was brought on board; Paul Millsap. While Millsap didn’t really contribute that year or really all that much until year 3, Deron Williams took a major step forward in his sophomore year, improving his ppg & apg from 10.8 & 4.5 up to 16.2 & 9.3 and finishing 2nd in the NBA in assists per game.
On top of D-Will’s significant individual improvements, he helped lead the Jazz to a 51 win 4th place finish and a double-digit win improvement over the previous season for the second straight year, ending Utah’s 4 year playoff drought. This included a franchise-record 12-1 start to the season. Not only that, the Jazz would go on to make their first conference finals since 1997-1998 aka the Stockton-Malone era. Unfortunately for Williams and the Jazz, the second round is the furthest they would ever go after the 2006-2007 season up to this very day.
While the Jazz as a team may not have had much postseason success from 2007-2011, Deron Williams took his own game to a superstar franchise point-guard level caliber. In that time span, he earned 2 All-NBA second-team selections while averaging 19.4 points and 10.4 assists on 47.7% shooting from the field and 82.5% from the charity stripe. Future first-ballot hall of famers Steve Nash & Chris Paul were legitimately the only other point guards putting up those kind of numbers during that 4-year span.
However, things in Utah had reached a flat status quo which eventually led to some major changes. On February 23rd 2011, 16 days after the Jazz coach for the last 23 seasons Jerry Sloan resigned mid-season, Deron Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and 2 first round picks that ended up being Enes Kanter & a pick that was used in a draft-day deal with another one to move up for Trey Burke in 2013. With that being said, this evidently ended D-Will’s tenure in Utah and thus began the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams era.
New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets
Though the Nets were already very much out of the playoff picture and the star point guard was limited to 12 games due to a nagging wrist injury following the trade from Utah, Williams still filled up the stat sheet in his short 2010-2011 season as a Net. He averaged 15 points and 12.8 assists per game.
The following year, which would be the Nets’ last in New Jersey and coincidentally also the lockout-shortened 66 game season, NJ as a team still struggled in no small part due to losing 2nd-fiddle Brook Lopez to a broken foot for all but 5 games of the season. However, D-Will earned his 3rd and final All-Star selection of his career during the 2011-2012 season. In addition, Williams led the Nets in points per game with 21 and led the team in assists per game by a 5.4 assist margin with 8.7 dimes per contest that season.
The next summer Deron Williams, an unrestricted free agent at this point, chose to stay with the Nets and signed a 5-year $98.7 million max contract. Things in the then new Barclays Center down in Brooklyn would finally take a positive turn for first time in the Deron Williams “era”. This same offseason the Nets would swing a major deal for then 6-time & eventual 7-time all-star Joe Johnson that would help bring the Nets to a 49-33 record and bring D-Will back to the playoffs for the first time in 3 seasons. Brooklyn would go on to lose a hard fought 7-game first round series against the Bulls.
However, the 27-win improvement combined with the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 6 years clearly wasn’t enough for Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov & general manager Billy King as they weren’t satisfied with the first-round exit. Brooklyn would officially go alllllll-in making the now infamous trade of 3 first-round picks and 2017 pick-swap (which has led to them losing this year’s first overall pick) to the Boston Celtics in exchange for aging & past-their-primes Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.
This future-killing move would only lead Brooklyn to a mediocre & dissapointing 2nd-round exit in the 2013-2014 season (just 1 round further than the prior year) and actually result in 5 less regular season wins than the previous season. This huge failure of an experiment would essentially last just 1 year as Pierce & Terry moved on in the 2014 offseason and Garnett got traded right around the 2015 trade deadline.
During the 2014-2015 season, the Nets would go on to finish a meager 38-44 but still managed to get the 8th seed leading to a 6-game first round series loss to the 60-win Hawks. This would be the official end of the Nets “championship window” (more like 2nd round exit window) as they would become the awful team that has handed the Celtics a 3rd & 1st overall pick with another high pick on the way to Boston next summer.
Meanwhile, due in large part to several nagging injuries, Williams’ individual numbers dropped significantly in his final 2 seasons as a Brooklyn Net. He would miss a combined 32 games and came off the bench for another 19 of those games during the 2013-2014 & 2014-2015 seasons while averaging a pedestrian 13.6 ppg & 6.4 apg (a clear drop-off from his not so distant all-star caliber numbers). This would spell the end of D-Will’s four & and a half season stint in Prokhorov’s circus as Brooklyn would waive Williams on July 11th 2015, officially buying him out of the last 2 years of his contract.
3 days after being waived by the Nets, Williams would sign a 2 year $10 million deal (including a 1 year player option) with the Dallas Mavericks. While D-Will’s numbers remained at their past-his-prime level (14.1 ppg & 5.8 apg) and he missed 17 games due to more injuries, he at least helped Dirk Nowitzki & the Mavs to a 42-40 6th-place finish during the 2015-2016 season. Unfortunately, stop me if you’ve heard this before, the team that Deron Williams plays for (this time Dallas) was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The following season, which happens to be this 2016-2017 ongoing season, things unraveled for the Mavericks leading them to enter a semi-rebuild/retool at the trade deadline. Unfortunately (more fortunately in reality as you’ll see shortly) for Williams, he was a casualty of this roster shake-up as D-Will was waived by the Mavs on February 23rd 2017 thus ending his short & unmemorable tenure in Dallas. For those keeping score, this was Williams’ 2nd buyout in less than 2 years.
On February 27th, 4 days after being waived by Dallas, the former all-NBA point guard signed with the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers to be young superstar Kyrie Irving‘s backup. Flash-forward 3 months and despite playing mostly in low-pressure minutes and garbage time while averaging just 15.5 minutes per game throughout the first 3 rounds of the playoffs, Williams will nonetheless appear in the NBA finals for the first time ever in his 12-year career.
Sure, the once highly discussed CP3 vs D-Will debate died several years ago as Paul far and away won that one, but ever since they were young NBA-sophomores Williams has held the distinction of being the only one of the two to have a conference finals appearance. Now 10 years later, at the age of 32, D-Will also has a finals appearance while CP3 still can’t get out of the first 2 rounds. 1 month from now, will we be referring to Williams as NBA champion Deron Williams? I’m excited to find that out and to see where the D-Will Roller-Coaster will head next this summer.