It took a little while, but David Griffin might have just found LeBron James his “f*****g playmaker.”
After the NBA’s trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, word came down that the Dallas Mavericks were open to parting ways with veteran point guard Deron Williams, after having chosen to throw their support behind rookie playmaker Yogi Ferrell:
Vertical Sources: Deron Williams, Dallas have started discussions toward contract buyout. Cleveland, Utah, Atlanta expressed trade interest.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 23, 2017
The Mavs have told Deron Williams they will pay off the full remaining amount of his deal if he wants to be a free agent, league sources say
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 23, 2017
The Mavs have requested waivers on Deron Williams. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.9 assists (10th in the NBA) per game this season.
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) February 23, 2017
… which opened the door to the 32-year-old Williams catching on elsewhere. Like, for example, The Land …
If Mavericks waive (not a buyout) Deron Williams, all signs point to DWill quickly working out a deal with the Cavs, per league sources.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) February 23, 2017
… as had been rumored last month.
Reported last month Cleveland inquired w/ Dallas about trading for Deron Williams. Now, by all appearances, he'll wind up in their lap.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 23, 2017
Multiple teams interested in Deron Williams tell ESPN they believe Williams has already decided to join Cleveland upon clearing waivers
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 23, 2017
And that’s precisely what’s expected to happen, according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that Williams plans to join up with LeBron James to give the Cavs the backup point guard they need. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because Williams has to clear waivers before signing with Cleveland.
While Williams and the Cavs spend the next 48 hours waiting to find out if any other team wants to make a claim for the point guard’s services, we can start envisioning how the five-time All-Star might fit in as an understudy for Kyrie Irving as a veteran ball-handler and playmaking release valve with the defending NBA champions. If head coach Tyronn Lue’s cool with letting him run pick-and-roll with all those shooters dotting the Cavs’ roster, the results might be pretty darn good:
Deron Williams leads the NBA in points created per possession by his passes out of the pick and roll this season (1.15).
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) February 23, 2017
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, Williams ranked as one of the best triggermen in the game during his years with the Utah Jazz. The Illinois product with the likes of Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Paul Millsap and new Cavalier teammate Kyle Korver to four straight playoff berths, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2007. His contentious relationship with longtime Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan eventually reached the point of no return, though, helping contribute to Sloan’s abrupt retirement and Williams’ trade to the then-New Jersey Nets in exchange for a rookie Derrick Favors, veteran Devin Harris, cash considerations and future first-round draft picks that would later be used on Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng.
Heralded as the cornerstone of a Nets team with designs on contending for Eastern Conference supremacy upon their move to Brooklyn, Williams made one All-Star appearance as a Net and signed a five-year, $98.8 million maximum-salaried contract. But he stumbled at times during his first year in Brooklyn, and struggled in his first postseason, as the Nets lost a Game 7 on their home court to fall to the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the 2013 playoffs.
The Nets went out that summer and swung a blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics to import Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, aimed at pushing the Miami Heat for a championship. But Williams opened the season dealing with an ankle injury that would dog him throughout a disappointing season that featured recurring health issues, as well as disappearing acts and flashes of brilliance in the postseason, before ultimately ending in a second-round elimination at the hands of those Heat, and a pair of ankle surgeries after the season.
He was mostly healthy during the 2014-15 season, playing 68 games, but rarely looked anything like his former All-Star self, as the Nets staggered to a 38-44 record after bidding farewell to Pierce and head coach Jason Kidd during the previous summer. He shot just 38.7 percent from the floor for the season, and scored five or fewer points in three of the Brooklyn’s six first-round playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks. Outside of a 35-point explosion in Game 4 of that series, Williams never resembled the franchise player the Nets hoped he’d be; shortly after the end of the season, the Nets bought out the remainder of his contract, allowing him to sign with the Mavs.
“It just never went well,” Williams would later say of his time in Brooklyn. “I just felt like everybody felt I was the problem, and so now I’m gone.”
Playing with far lower expectations than he’d faced in Brooklyn, Williams performed well enough in Texas, averaging 13.7 points, 6.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 31.2 minutes per game in 105 games over the past two seasons, shooting 42 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from the 3-point line. He’d made 40 starts this season before again battling injury issues, opening the door to the Mavericks adding rookie Ferrell on a 10-day contract; the former Indiana standout promptly turned in 19 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists in a win over the Cavs, and 32 points on 9-for-11 3-point shooting to beat Portland, convincing Dallas to ink him to a two-year contract and to go with a youth movement at the point guard position.
“It was great having Deron and his family back in Dallas for the better part of 2 seasons,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said in a Thursday night statement. “At this time, the decision has been made to focus on playing our young guys, and the organization felt that giving Deron the freedom to choose his next team was the right thing to do. Deron still plays at a high level and I believe he will be a difference-maker for a contending team down the stretch.”
And now, we wait to find out if any other team feels like getting in the way of Williams getting the chance to be that difference-maker for a Cavs team that could really use another hand at the wheel to take some playmaking responsibility off the shoulders of James and Irving, especially with Kevin Love and J.R. Smith continuing to work their way back from surgeries.
This probably wasn’t how Deron Williams envisioned getting another chance to compete for titles. After several years of fairly steady decline in both play and reputation, though, you’d imagine he welcomes the opportunity all the same.
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