HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Brooklyn Nets and Deron Williams have parted ways.
Williams’ buyout marks the end to an era in which the Nets gave up a ton of assets and spent a ton of money in an effort to build a championship contender around the point guard.
Here’s a quick recap of the damage…
- The Nets traded for Williams at the 2011 trade deadline after they lost the chase for Carmelo Anthony. In exchange for the point guard, they sent Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks, which became Enes Kanter in 2011 and Gorgui Dieng in 2013, to Utah.
- Williams was set to become a free agent in 2012, and the Nets were still struggling in their last season in New Jersey. So they traded a first round pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace, who was on an expiring contract. They only protected the pick 1-3, it landed at No. 6, and became Damian Lillard, who became the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and who has been a better point guard than Williams since.
- In the summer of 2012, the Nets had to re-sign Wallace, and they gave him a four-year contract worth $40 million. In the three seasons since then, he has shot 43 percent (29 percent from 3-point range), and scored a total of 864 points. Lillard has scored 4,977.
- The Nets knew that Wallace wasn’t enough to convince Williams to re-sign (he admitted later that he already had a house picked out in Dallas). So they traded for Joe Johnson, sending Atlanta a first round pick (which became Shane Larkin). The Nets also agreed to an Atlanta-favored pick swap in 2014 and 2015. That resulted in Brooklyn getting the 29th pick instead of the 15th pick this year.
- On Draft night 2013, the Nets went all-in, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They sent Boston three first round picks (2014 – James Young), 2016 and 2018, all unprotected. They also gave the Celtics the right to swap picks in 2017.
- The Nets also made a couple of staff changes at the behest of Williams. They fired long-time strength and conditioning coach Rich Dalatri to bring in Williams’ guy, who has already moved on.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov paid almost $200 million in salary and luxury taxes for the 2013-14 Nets, who won a playoff series, but lost to the eventual champion Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The bill for the 2014-15 Nets wasn’t as big, but the team was much worse. Williams gave them one last big game to remember (35 points, 7-for-11 from 3-point range) in Game 4 against the Hawks, but the series was a microcosm of his 4 1/2 years with the franchise. There were some good moments, but the consistency wasn’t there.
Neither was the leadership. When you pay a guy $20 million a year, you expect him to be more than just a basketball player. Williams was often compared to Jason Kidd, the former Nets point guard and their coach for that 2013-14 season. But he fell way short in regard to getting his teammates to rally around him.
Here was Pierce on the ’13-14 Nets, via ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen…
“If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”
The player that puzzled him the most, said Pierce, was point guard Deron Williams.
“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.
“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”
Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.
Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.
So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.
With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.
The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.
The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.
The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.
The change in the locker-room dynamic that will come with Williams’ departure could certainly be a positive. Jack isn’t on Williams’ level as a point guard, but Williams isn’t on Jack’s level as a leader.
That’s a big reason Williams’ days in Brooklyn are over. Over the years, the Nets learned that they didn’t get the franchise point guard they though they traded for. Unfortunately for them, it was an incredibly costly lesson.