LONDON — Road trips in the NBA have always provided the sort of seclusion and quality time members of the traveling party cherish. Ferrying a team across an ocean and to another continent, though, seems like a bit much, even by today’s standards.
Nets general manager Billy King isn’t complaining. Not with few of the normal distractions around as he continues to cultivate his relationship with the new face of the franchise, point guard Deron Williams.
It’s an ages old practice that has become increasingly more important in the last eight months since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, and Carmelo Anthony joined Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, a movement of friends pairing up with other friends to form “super teams.”
King and the Nets are in full-blown sales mode, knowing full well that Williams has to be treated like the prized that he is. Williams can sign an extension in July, though, the current CBA expiring after this season throws a curve into the process. Still, the Nets have plenty of time to woo him. Williams also acknowledged that he, too, has to don his recruiter’s cap at this stage of his career, wherever he plays, in order to keep up with All-Star and Olympic team peers in Miami and New York.
“I’m going to have to [turn into a recruiter],” Williams said from a courtside seat Thursday morning after the Nets finished practice. “I tried to do it in Utah. But it’s tough. It was a tough situation. You’ve got to do it. Guys have to want to play with you and hopefully they will. And I’m going to try and recruit some guys to come here and help.”
That would be sweet music to King’s ears, had he heard Williams say it. But he was on the other side of the court joking with Sasha Vujacic as they both tried to playfully hustle each other in a shooting game. Even with all of the attention on Williams these days, King realizes that you have to maintain relationships with all of your players — not just the superstars.
“Yeah, I understand what you are saying. But I look at it from a standpoint of we have to do this everyday with all of our players because they are the ones that spread the message about your organization,” King said. “I’ve always been as a GM, one to cultivate relationships. I believe in having an open door and calling guys and texting guys and being available to them. That’s the job. So, it’s not just about Deron, it’s the way we treat all of our players. because again, they are the ones that spread the word. And it’s been that way from the day I came in here [to the Nets].”
So far so good. Keep in mind it’s only been a week.
“They’ve done a great job as far as making me and my family feel comfortable in a short time, as much as you with all the travel,” Williams said. “We haven’t had a chance to sit down and just chill. But everybody’s been great, the team has been great, the coaching staff has been great. The whole coaching staff has been great, making my experience great so far.”
Nets coach Avery Johnson continued his gushing about Williams Thursday, insisting that he has and will continue to modify his schemes to Williams’ skill-set, which shouldn’t be hard to do when you have arguably the best point guard in the league to work with. And that includes running more offensive sets where Williams can post up and shoot from beyond the 3-point line.
And Johnson said he didn’t need any extra time to familiarize himself with or get comfortable with his new point guard.
“I was comfortable with him when we made the trade,” he said. “The smart thing to do, when you have a guy of that magnitude, you get comfortable with him pretty quickly … a lot of the plays we had just didn’t fit his skill level, so we just threw ‘em out. They are in the trash can. We kept some of the ones that fit his game. Then, in our last game, we added quite a few of the plays he was comfortable with from his time in Utah. And now the rest of the guys have to get on board with his situation and he has to get on board with some of the things we’re already doing for guys like Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Sasha Vujacic or Anthony Morrow.”
Williams isn’t worried about anyone remaking anything to please him. That said, the subtle tweaks have been well received. And the attention — from the organization, coaching staff and his teammates — is being duly noted.
A face-to-face meeting with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is expected sometime this weekend as well. “I think so,” Williams said when asked about it. “We’re supposed to [do that] at some point. I don’t know if he is here yet or not.”
In the meantime, the Nets will continue to make sure Williams understands exactly how they feel about him.
“I look at it as a process,” King said. “As we get to know each other better, he’ll get to know more about me and the organization.”
The process speeds up now for the Nets, especially with Williams in the fold, at least for now.
“Now we have a quarterback,” King said. “And you’ve got a center in Brook. And it’s easier to put the pieces around them knowing you have the right building blocks.”