Following months of speculation about where he might land in free agency, Deron Williams announced his long-awaited decision with a single tweet. As soon as he posted that pic of the Brooklyn Nets' shiny new logo, that image immediately changed the temperaments of two entire fanbases. While Dallas Mavericks fans began rueing the day their owner let Tyson Chandler walk for a now-blown shot at signing Williams, Nets fans everywhere erupted in jubilation. Brooklyn would have its star, and the Nets would have to be taken seriously in their first season back in New York. Deron Williams, now teamed with the recently acquired Joe Johnson, newly healthy Brook Lopez, and trusty veteran Gerald Wallace, would re-enter the upper-echlon of NBA point guards. While this scenario sounds great, I can't help but feel there are some unchecked assumptions in this thinking, namely that Williams can simply revert to the elite player he once was by turning on a Brooklyn-enabled magic switch.
It's no secret that Deron Williams was largely unhappy in his year and a half as a New Jersey Net, so much so that many analysts did not expect Williams to stick around long enough to see Brooklyn. In fairness to the star guard, he did in fact never "ask to be here", he was injury-raddled upon his arrival, and was playing with mostly far-inferior players. When Williams did take the court, he was a shade of his former Jazz self, as evidenced by his decreased field goal percentage. Fortunately for Williams, he can easily blame his lowered field goal percentage on his need to shoulder a heavier shooting load, thanks to the lacking talent surrounding him. But where Williams cannot push the blame towards others is in his own on-court effort, or lack thereof.
Anyone who caught a handful of Nets games last year could easily detect that Williams was not giving his all every night. And some would ask, why should he? Why should a star point guard bust his ass for a team fielding incompetent surrounding talent? He did not ask to be traded to a bad team, so if he starts coasting when a game is out of a reach and the season is beyond saving, so what?
Well, for one, I would say this is poor and shameful excuse-making for a player who wants to be considered the best at his position. While Chris Paul's Hornets were falling apart due to either injury or faulty roster construction, that did not stop Paul from putting on a show in the 2011 playoffs, helping New Orleans legitimately challenge the Lakers when most expected them to be swept in embarrassing fashion. As a New Jersey Nets fan watching nearly every game of the franchise's final year in the state, it did not endear me to watch Deron Williams regularly mail in a game, throw both teammates and the crowd under the bus, and deflect blame towards arena "sight-lines". Playing on a bad team destined to miss the playoffs does not qualify in my eyes as a valid reason to regularly pout on the bench and exhibit poor sportsmanship and leadership, especially if one still wants to be considered among the best in the league.
So if the qualifier for the last two years in New Jersey is that Williams did not have the teammates to perform up to his usual level, there is undoubtedly no excuse now. Mikhail Prokhorov spent nearly a third of a billion dollars this summer fetching Williams a formidable roster of teammates; it is on no one but Williams now to perform at a star level once again. The Nets jumped through hoops and frankly at times embarrassed themselves in convincing Williams to come to Brooklyn, paying him $100 million over 5 years to obtain his services. Big money raises big expectations, with the purgatory of Newark no longer offering a valid excuse for poor performance. Eyes are on the Nets like never before, and the team will largely rise or fall depending on how Williams plays. If Deron plays like the elite point guard he was in Utah, the Nets will challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals; if he plays closer to the Deron of the last two years, the Nets will struggle to hold onto a playoff spot in a competitive Eastern Conference.
It's a star's league, and the Nets obviously think Deron Williams is the star they need to compete for a title; the $20 million a year salary Williams will be earning would certainly indicate that. After two years of waiting for Brooklyn, the time is finally upon us; it's time for Williams to prove now to the basketball-watching world that he is that star.