A three-time NBA All-Star is unexpectedly about to hit the open market. Reports indicate that he will not be there for long.
David Aldridge of NBA.com reported Friday that the Brooklyn Nets and point guard Deron Williams have reached a buyout agreement for the final two years and $43.3 million left on his contract. ESPN's Marc Stein added soon after that Williams will be paid in the "$25-to-$30-million range." His next contract will not affect that figure.
It looks like a foregone conclusion that Williams will join the Dallas Mavericks, a team still reeling from this week's shocking decommitment from prized free-agent center DeAndre Jordan. Stein reported late Thursday night that the 31-year-old sought a buyout from the Nets with the intention of joining the Mavs to fill their vacant point guard spot. According to Stein, the new deal with Dallas should fall around $10 million over two years, so it looks likely that Williams will make several million less than he would have been paid via his contract with the Nets.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Williams signed that five-year, $100-million max-level deal in July 2012, 17 months after being traded to the Nets from the Utah Jazz. The Williams re-signing was a coup for the Nets, a team looking to make a statement as they moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Williams met with several teams, including the Mavericks, before deciding to return to the Nets.
The first three years of that deal did not go as planned. Williams played to his usual star level in 2012-13 as the Nets finished fourth in the East, but he shot only 42.5 percent from the field in a seven-game first-round loss to a patchwork Chicago Bulls squad suffering through injuries. Brooklyn chased a championship the following offseason by adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce via trade, but Williams had ankle trouble as early as that September and struggled through a season that hit its nadir in a 0-point performance against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the conference semifinals. Williams underwent surgery on both ankles in late May and came into the 2014-15 season with hope that he would stay healthy.
He did stay on the floor for 68 games, but only as a shell of his former self. Williams shot just 38.7 percent from the field for the season and scored five points or fewer in three of the Nets' six first-round playoff games with the Atlanta Hawks, only reaching his hoped-for level with 35 points in a Game 4 win. Once a top-level point guard and franchise player, Williams is now someone who gets bought out to save his team some money.
This latest news is sensible for all three involved parties. Taking Williams off the books takes the Nets under the salary cap, a major accomplishment for a franchise that boasted one of the highest payrolls and luxury taxes in the league for a mediocre product. As noted by Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, the Nets will avoid a repeater luxury tax of roughly $40 million and will hold $39 million in salary cap space for next summer, providing hope that they can get their finances in order and begin to remake the roster. It's not clear if the Nets will be very good in 2015-16, but they only made this past postseason by virtue of losing less than a number of other iffy contenders and weren't any sort of lock for participation with Williams on the roster.
Williams, who grew up in Dallas suburb The Colony, gets a chance to rebuild his reputation under head coach Rick Carlisle, one of the league's most respected offensive minds. While it's not clear that Williams can play to a high level with any consistency, Carlisle and his staff should at least be able to use him in better, more inventive ways than did Nets head coaches Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins over the last two seasons. If new addition Wesley Matthews returns to health, Chandler Parsons recovers from knee surgery, and Dirk Nowitzki avoids a precipitous fall at 37 years old, the Nets should have a number of capable offensive players to take some of the pressure off Williams. In theory, he can be part of a collective and not the do-everything guarded expected to take over in crunch time. The buyout gave Williams freedom from expectations as well as from the Nets.
Meanwhile, Dallas has made big news during a week that put the future of the team in serious doubt. While the Mavericks' pre-debacle lauding of Jordan always seemed more like understandable excitement than an honest appraisal of the center's skills, the fact is that Jordan gave direction to a franchise that had struck out on several high-profile free agents (including Williams) over three straight summers. After the agreement fell apart, the Mavericks were in no man's land between rebuilding and gunning for the playoffs. Adding Williams appears to indicate that they're going to do their best to compete.
They are probably not equipped to do so. Unless his ankles see an unlikely turnaround, Williams appears near or at the end of his usefulness as a starter. There are also the looming injury recoveries of Matthews and Parsons, the former of which could be a long-term process given the history of torn Achilles tendons. Even in a best-case scenario, the Mavs have no quality centers and only one or two plus defenders. A casual fan might look at the roster and think it's competitive, but each key player faces serious questions regarding his future.
Inadvertently or not, it could be an ideal situation for the Mavericks. Adding Williams allows Dallas to save face during a very tough week without significantly improving themselves. This is quite simply not a playoff-caliber squad right now, although they still have enough notable players to produce some excitement and occupy interest while slowly working their way towards rock bottom. In the East, they'd be like the Nets, a franchise treading water for seemingly no reason. In the West, the Mavericks could be bad enough to hold on to a top-7 protected draft pick.
Expect a rough, maybe even painfully sad season for the Mavericks. Ultimately, though, it will still get them closer to the inevitable conclusion of rebuilding.
- - - - - - -