D-Will departing like Starbury

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Deron Williams era began in New Jersey with theNetsgrinning from ear to ear about landing the All-Star point guard in 2011as a surprising consolation prize for losing the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.

And it ended on Friday with Williams being bought out of his max contract and some Nets players likely smiling over the news of the unpredictable point guard now gone.

Williams came with enormous expectations and was supposed to be the Nets' version of Chris Paul. The Nets, though, might've wished David Stern had vetoed this trade, too, in retrospect, since they ultimately find themselves four and a half seasons later paying Williams $27.5 million to depart without much to show for it.

Williams leaves with too many injuries, not enough playoff wins and a maddening Nets legacy that will go down as more of a disappointment than that of Stephon Marbury.

Remember the Starbury experiment? Those who have followed the Nets all these years will tell you how Williams and Marbury have some similarities.

They were brought in as franchise saviors with so much excitement and promise. The two point guards were exceptionally gifted offensively, equipped with ankle-breaking crossovers and the ability to detonate for 50 on any given night.

But they were also moody point guards capable of alienating teammates and coaches. They both can suck the life out of a room, as one person succinctly put it, and teammates could be dragged down with that kind of energy.

However, say what you want to say about Marbury's 2-year tenure when he didn't average less than 22 points and 7.6 assists while earning a trip to the All-Star Game as a Net. He might not have always gone about things the right way -- anyone remember who was "All Alone" in Nets lore? -- and his icy glares could put Keith Van Horn on ice.

But while Marbury might not have always played the type of ball that made teammates better or happier, he did ball with a chip on his shoulder and with high energy. And at least the Nets were able to turn him into Jason Kidd thanks to Rod Thorn's franchise-altering trade in 2001.

Williams? He played with head-scratching low energy on too many nights, making even Kobe Bryant wonder from afar what was going on in Williams' head after the Nets point guard went scoreless and shot 0-for-9 in Game 2 of Brooklyn's second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat two years ago.

Too often, Williams was running near empty on confidence either due to injuries or his inconsistent play. And you can't fault the Nets for not trying to do everything they could to get the best out of Williams.

Unlike Marbury, the Nets handed Williams the keys to the franchise. While Marbury came to New Jersey as a young talent who wanted his own team but still hadn't shown he could be a franchise player, Williams arrived to the Nets from Utah as an established All-Star firmly on the rise. He might not have gotten along with Jerry Sloan, but he was supposed to challenge Chris Paul for best point guard over the next decade.

And there were some spectacularly dizzying moments, like when Williams scored a franchise-high 57 points against Charlotte in 2012. He could tally 20 assists in a game and deliver 3-point barrages. Williams also helped the Nets reach the postseason the past three years, getting out of the first round just once. But his averages dipped, in part due to injuries, from 21.0 points and 8.7 assists in 2011-12 to 13 points and 6.6 assists last season.

The Nets tried to surround Williams with a lot more talent than Marbury ever had. The organization bent over backward for the enigmatic point guard and made trades -- albeit some not the best moves -- like sending the first-round pick that eventually became Damian Lillard for Gerald Wallace,and acquiring Joe Johnson to keep Williams in a Nets uniform before he became a free agent.

They wanted Dwight Howard to join his friend, although a Howard-Williams tandem never came to fruition -- perhaps for the best for Brooklyn.

Coaches? The Nets went through Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo before turning to Kidd to get Williams back to playing like an elite point guard. Who better to bring out Williams' best than Kidd, who had a Hall of Fame career at the position and was one of Williams' close friends?

Heck, the Nets even traded three first-round picks to Boston to have Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett teach Williams, Brook Lopez and Johnson how to win.

But Pierce and KG soon discovered the talented Williams could have used one Marbury trait -- and that was the Coney Island product's laser-like desire to play and star in this pressure-packed market.

"Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate," Pierce told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan in April. "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."

Pierce and Garnett tried prodding Williams to play like a franchise point guard. Sources said Pierce tried pushing as many D-Will buttons as he could. By the end of the 2013-14 season that started with championship expectations, Kidd left without talking to his point guard and former golfing and vacation buddy.

In came Lionel Hollins, who by the All-Star break determined he couldn't win with Williams at point guard, according to sources. Williams wasn't the only player not to see eye-to-eye with the no-nonsense Hollins. However, making matters worse was that some teammates had grown tired of the unpredictable Williams, too.

A divorce was necessary. Williams needed a fresh start, and the Nets were ready to move on. The Nets wanted to trade Williams but didn't have much luck. As fate would have it, DeAndre Jordan changed his mind about Dallas, giving Williams a new landing spot and one that happened to be the point guard's hometown.

Williams could be playing alongside Devin Harris, the point guard the Nets once tried to build around post-Kidd before trading him as part of the deal with Utah that landed them Williams.

It wouldn't be much of a surprise if Williams recaptures some of his old game and plays well with a fresh start. Brooklyn is moving on from D-Will, and it's a move that had to happen almost as much as when the Nets acquired Williams to recover from the Melo loss and help the franchise eventually make the move to Brooklyn with a star talent.

In the end, though, Williams leaves the Nets with a small fortune to pay off to complete their divorce.

At least Marbury left the Nets in exchange for the greatest player in their NBA franchise history.

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