Oh, how the times have changed.
The 2011-12 NBA season was one to forget for Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets. Despite flashing All-Star form, Williams' averages of 21.0 points and 8.7 assists per game couldn't help lift the struggling franchise to a winning season.
In fact, the team lost twice as many games as they won, finishing with a disappointing record of 22-44.
In the matter of five short months, the New Jersey Nets' season has ended and the Brooklyn Nets' organization has been born. In that time, the Nets have re-signed Williams, as well as the solid supporting cast of Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
Oh, and they traded for some guy named Joe Johnson. In case you haven't heard of him, he's just a six-time All-Star who has led the Atlanta Hawks to the postseason every year since 2008.
Along with the big names have come some quality role players. Postseason veterans such as C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans and Reggie Evans have been added to the roster, while international imports Mirza Teletovic and Tornike Shengelia join Tyshawn Taylor as the rookies on the team.
Paired with the prospective progression of rising star MarShon Brooks, it appears as if the Brooklyn Nets are poised for big things. And it all ties back to Deron Williams.
As the face of the franchise, Williams' on-court contributions will be the glue that holds this potential masterpiece together. His ability to distribute the ball to a group of talented scorers could be the difference for a team who lacks a great deal of quality defenders.
Although this team is bound to be better defensively than their on-paper rotations would suggest, it's important to remember how far they are from elite. For that reason, this offense must be clicking on all cylinders to overcome the Eastern Conference's elite.
Fortunately, Williams will be able to do just that with the current group of players surrounding him.
One of the greatest aspects of Joe Johnson's game is that, when he actually has a point guard to facilitate the game, he's excellent without the ball in his hands. This enables him to move off of the ball and utilize his size and rise to connect on his jump shot with relative ease.
A quality that makes Deron Williams' job as point guard a whole lot easier.
What separates Johnson from a majority of his Brooklyn Nets teammates is not just his ability to move without the ball, but catch and shoot with efficiency. His 38.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc during the 2011-12 NBA season offers some insight, but it stretches beyond the statistics.
With Johnson able to knock down a big three on a moment's notice, Deron Williams is no longer the team's go-to-guy from beyond the arc. Instead, Johnson becomes the lead perimeter scorer and allows Williams to focus on his point guard duties.
In turn, the pressure is alleviated and Williams will find it a whole lot easier to drop in 20 points when he's not a defense's top priority in terms of scoring the basketball.
The second addition that eases the load on Williams will be that of Brook Lopez. For those confused, this is an addition because either Williams or Lopez has been injured for the most part of their tenure together.
With Lopez healthy, however, D-Will can prove to the world what it might have forgotten since his days in Utah. That, of course, is that he is one of the greatest pick-and-roll artists this game has ever seen.
And no, that it is not a stretch.
Although Brook Lopez is not the quickest individual, he and Deron Williams should be able to run a legitimately effective pick-and-roll game. As a result, Williams will be back in his comfort zone and no longer find himself forced to run makeshift attacks.
More importantly, Lopez will remain around the basket, thus increasing his ability to score and get to the line. In turn, Williams will see his options vary as an opposing defense close on a consistent finisher who must be accounted for.
Thus enabling D-Will to slice and dice a defense like only he can.
With talented slashers such as Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks, one can only expect to see Williams' assist numbers rise back above 10.0 per contest. It's also fair to assume that sharpshooters such as Joe Johnson and C.J. Watson will benefit from any time spent with Williams as they receive open looks left and right.
To put it simply, the Nets are a better team when Williams is running the pick-and-roll. In 2011-12, they simply didn't have the resources to make that work.
The final improvement that the Brooklyn Nets have made cannot be pinpointed to any individual, but instead to a group of players. With a revamped frontcourt, including the addition of veteran Reggie Evans, the Nets now have the interior strength to make this a twofold unit.
We all know that Kris Humphries will dominate the glass, just as we're aware of Brook Lopez's tendency to put up 20 points a night. With Gerald Wallace at small forward, however, defensive versatility has been created.
Evans, meanwhile, adds a toughness on the interior that matches Wallace's contributions on the perimeter. Between he, Wallace and Humphries, it appears as if Lopez's reputation as a soft player will be less relevant than previously expected.
What this does for D-Will is give him the comfort of knowing that there is a safety blanket behind him on defense. Reggie Evans is notorious for taking charges, while Humphries has proven to have improved in a major way on D.
As a result, Williams' defensive tenacity will remain at the high we witnessed during the 2012 London Olympics. The comfort of having a reliable frontcourt, however, will enable D-Will to pursue the passing lanes and create transition baskets.
Whether offensively or defensively, Deron Williams is no longer on his own. For that reason, the leader of the Brooklyn Nets is bound to have a career year and remind us all why he is elite.