I remember February 24, 2011 like it was yesterday. I was on vacation with my family when I received an ESPN update, telling me the Nets had traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams. Williams was coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons and averaging a career high in points (21.3) and assists (9.7) that season. He was my favorite non-Net in the NBA. I couldn’t have been more excited.
Less than five years later, I can’t stand D-Will and can’t wait for Brooklyn to ship his overrated behind somewhere else.
That deal was the biggest move the Nets had made in ages. They were transitioning from New Jersey to the bright lights of Brooklyn, and the team needed a star. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?
The team was looking for something or someone to build around, and according to Nets’ General Manager Billy King, Williams was the best point guard in the league.
“I honestly always felt he was the best point guard in the league, and that’s no disrespect to anyone,” King said. “I just honestly believe that.”
But this was the trade that ruined the Nets franchise of the future.
Williams was a free agent following the 2011-2012, and the Nets had to prove to him they were serious about improving to keep him in town. Nothing says, “Stay here please!” more than trading for another “superstar.” So King worked his magic again and acquired Joe Johnson — a six-time All Star with a ridiculously expensive contract — from the Hawks.
The Nets also traded the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to Portland for Gerald Wallace. The Trail Blazers used that pick on Damian Lillard.
Apparently that was enough for Williams, who decided to re-sign with the Nets and headline of the new Barclays Center. His lucrative contract meant the Nets would dole out $98 million to him over five years.
The Nets had their “Big 3” in place with Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez. For the first time since the Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson days, the Nets looked poised to compete for the right to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Brooklyn.
Year One of the Brooklyn experiment was relatively successful. The Nets finished with a 49-33 record, good enough for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, then lost Game 7 at home to the Bulls in the opening round. Williams averaged 19 points and 8 assists that year but was no longer in the conversation with Chris Paul for the NBA’s best floor general, and couldn’t help the Nets overcome a short-handed Bulls team missing more than one of its starters.
At the time, the Nets had three of the 17 worst contracts in the NBA, according to Grantland’s Editor-In-Chief Bill Simmons.
Rather than find a way to compete for a title without braking the bank, the Nets — and owner Mikhail Prokhorov — doubled down on their expenditures that offseason. In an effort to keep the franchise’s championship window open, King traded away three first-round draft picks (pretty much the team’s entire future) and some bench players to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
The deal didn’t pan out, and although the Nets advanced to the second round of the playoffs, the 2013-14 season was a disappointment. The team with the NBA’s highest payroll looked like a junior varsity squad compared to the Miami Heat in the second round.
Williams dealt with a myriad of injuries over the course of the year — a common theme throughout his tenure with the Nets — and wasn’t the franchise leader the team hoped he’d be. With the likes of Williams, Johnson, Lopez and Garnett on the books, the Nets have very limited cap space and no first-round draft picks to work with this offseason to improve their roster.
Fast-forward to the present, with the Nets at 16-16. If they played in the Western Conference, they’d be the 11th seed. Luckily for them, they play in the East and would actually make the playoffs if the season ended today. This team is going nowhere in the immediate future, and Williams is playing like a shell of his former self.
There are reports that the Nets and Kings are discussing a deal for Williams that would send Darren Collison, Derrick Williams and Jason Thompson to Brooklyn. I’m praying the deal happens.
The Nets need a new start. The Deron Williams experiment has been a major fail. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is a major “what if,” but Brooklyn could potentially have had Favors and Lillard in their starting lineup today. That duo alone would give more hope to the fans than any sort of winning streak this current roster can put together. Oh, and the thought of having a first-round draft pick in the next three years sounds really good, too.
Trading for D-Will was a move the Nets had to make; it excited a comatose fan base. But looking back, it’s a move that destroyed the franchise’s future. Is this current Nets team better than the team in its final years in New Jersey? Absolutely. But at least that team had something to look forward too: the future.
It’s a shame too, because Damian Lillard and Derrick Favors would have looked really good in black and white playing at the Barclays Center.
Did trading for Deron Williams inadvertently ruin the Nets?
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