Jerry Sloan’s system didn’t turn John Stockton into a Hall of Famer, because the former Utah Jazz coach’s plays had little to do with Stockton’s superior athletic gifts and expert timing. It didn’t make Deron Williams, fresh off a trip to the NCAA championship, into a young superstar. And his modified take on the UCLA or “flex” offense is neither ubiquitous nor unique. He was just a very good coach, perhaps the best of the last 30 years, who did well in leading the players he was charged with coaching.
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams didn’t exactly fawn over the coach he badgered into retirement earlier this week when candidly praised the offense he played under with Sloan from 2005 until 2011, but he did talk up how much he “loved the offense there” in a back and forth with reporters earlier this week.
And now, with the struggles of Brooklyn’s hopeful superstars starting to make waves, other point men have chimed in. Namely, current Jazz point man Mo Williams, and Knicks starting hybrid guard Jason Kidd. Williams, who worked under Sloan during his rookie year in 2003-04, spoke on Thursday about missing the offense after he left Utah:
"The biggest difference when you leave," he said, "is other players haven’t been at Utah, so they don’t know how that system really is. They don’t know, you can get frustrated at times in the sense that you wonder why guys don’t know how to play the ‘right way.’”
In defense of Williams’ 2011-era churlishness, playing the “right way” can be restrictive, and a bore. Since 2004-05, the year before Deron entered the league, the NBA has made a point guard’s life quite easy by enforcing hand-check rules and calling all contact as guards attempt to drive past their defenders. As a result, the league has become more entertaining and far more pleasing to the average or fanatic television viewer.
And, as a result, Sloan’s offense could be misconstrued as anachronistic by some. After all, this was the guy notorious for calling plays after offensive rebounds. Deron may have routinely averaged around 19 points and 10 assists while working under Sloan, but he wasn’t given the same clearance that players like Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Derrick Rose usually thrive under.
Then again, while Williams led the Jazz to the Western conference finals in 2007, it wasn’t as if his ways were putting the Jazz on the brink of greatness year in and year out. In fact, it seemed that the more plays Williams (clearly, to anyone watching) broke, the worse off the Jazz were. Deron has never been a speedster or a lights-out shooter, so the idea of D-Will as a “system” guard felt like the right notion.
Not for Deron, though. He kvetched behind the scenes enough to badger Sloan into retirement – a far from noble ending that Sloan chose on his own; one that he has to own – and made it known that his expected 2012 free agent re-signing in Utah was far from a sure thing. The Jazz dealt Williams to New Jersey two weeks after Sloan retired, and Williams was given the benefit of the Nets’ willing delve into purgatory before moving to Brooklyn and reforming the roster as he whiled away the days between February of 2011 and the start of this season.
And now, with famous teammates and a massive payroll and “BKLN” on his business card, it’s time to live up the hype. And Williams, still shooting below 40 percent from the field, has not acquitted himself well as the leader of the 13-12 Brooklyn Nets.
Jason Kidd, a friend and mentor, thinks it has less to do with the Nets’ system, and more to do with Williams’ shooting stroke. Jason, who is shooting 45 percent from long range this season and is now an expert on such things, spoke out on his pal’s struggles on Thursday:
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach,” Kidd said Thursday. “I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable making shots. Also, he has new teammates. He’s got to get used to a new crew. It’s always a growing period.
“He’s a grownup. He’ll figure it out. All things don’t go well right away sometimes. He’s just going through a struggle shooting the ball, but he’s one of the best at what he does, so he’ll work through it.”
That’s the killer for me: “One of the best at what he does.” At point guard, sure, but the notion that Deron Williams is some franchise-tilting superstar just never clicked with this watcher. Despite very much enjoying his work and appreciating his ability to mix the “me” with the “them” as he scored and dished, it was laughable that there ever was an argument over who to take between Chris Paul and Deron Williams. And this wouldn’t be Williams’ fault, had he not prided himself on being that sort of franchise-tilting star.
The Newark Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro is a franchise-tilting star, and has been the case since I was allowed internet access in 1996, he nailed the pertinent points in a column on Deron from Thursday:
Of course, the lack of accountability is also management’s fault. We recall those stories about you finishing practice and heading up to Billy King’s office to plop yourself on the couch — where even the new boss chuckled along when you called yourself “the assistant GM.” Haw!
But if you understand the GM-player relationship, you know this is a problem. Because with the exception of one guy in San Antonio, no player should have this kind of entitlement. Not even LeBron James, who once prided himself on his ability to hold a franchise hostage, would presume to have this kind of influence.
Everyone knows the power you brandish in Brooklyn, and they have no choice but to enable it. But now they wonder whether you’ll understand that it comes with responsibility.
“Responsibility,” in our silly sports terms, only really comes down to making jump shots and not whining about the offense when they don’t go down. It’s also true, though, that Williams is shooting fewer times at the rim despite taking about as many field goal attempts per-minute as he did during his time in Utah. And though Williams has only shot above the league average twice in his NBA career, with both those seasons coming in his first three years in the league, D-Will is taking five and a half threes per 36 minutes despite shooting under 30 percent from long range.
He’s going to have to adapt. He might even have to break some plays. And he might have to consider the fact that, since declaring himself a star of stars and forcing his way out of Utah 22 months ago that he’s shot 39.7 percent as a member of the Nets. After hitting for 46.6 percent of his shots in Utah. A career in Utah that saw 436 out of his total 439 games played under the tutelage of Jerry Sloan.
The Brooklyn Nets are full of big hype. New uniforms, cool owners and co-owners, an intriguing new arena and a massive payroll. They’re also full of great players, though, and they’re a team that has a legitimate chance to dethrone the Miami Heat in spite of starting out ‘12-13 with a disappointing 13-12 run. Deron Williams has enough in him, irrespective of system, to push this team over the top.
He’ll have to stop pushing paper, first.