Deron Williams is a problem. And not in the cool, slangy way.
The 29-year-old point guard failed to step up for the Brooklyn Nets this postseason, averaging playoff career-lows in shooting percentage, assists and scoring.
He just didn’t look like himself, but a never-ending battle with ankle injuries may have had something to do with it.
According to ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo, Williams “received multiple cortisone shots and platelet-rich plasma injections to ease the pain” this postseason and may need surgery, though Williams said that it’d be “nothing major.”
But it wasn’t just the postseason that was the problem. D-Will’s regular season scoring and assist numbers—about 14 points and six assists—were the worst since his rookie year, and he failed to be Brooklyn’s best player when the team needed him most.
The Nets are looking at a payroll of nearly $90 million next year, which is a skyscraper of a number.
But if the team can find a way to trade Williams, who will rake in more than $62 million over the course of the next three seasons, some of their financial and draft problems will be solved.
Re-sign Shaun Livingston
First things first—the Nets need someone to bring up the ball next year.
Shaun Livingston was sensational this season in what was his first major role after his devastating knee injury back in 2007. He would seamlessly step into a larger role next year with Williams gone.
Though he’s going to be a free agent, and will earn much more than the $1.2 million deal that he got this season, Livingston has indicated that he’d like to return to the Nets.
Per Dave D’Alessando of The Star-Ledger back in early April:
“Money might be calling, but this is about loyalty, too,” Reggie Livingston said of his free agent son. “Let’s be honest: The Nets helped save his career, and Shaun is a very loyal kid.”
“I like where I’m at, let’s put it that way,” Shaun Livingston said. “This year’s been everything I could have asked for.”
Nets general manager Billy King has made it clear that it’s his “top priority” to bring Livingston back, per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. Bontemps pointed out that the most Brooklyn can give him would be a three-year contract worth around $10 million.
It’d be unwise to trade Williams before putting ink to Livingston’s deal. But once Livingston is officially signed as a member of next year’s team, King needs to cast his net into the trade market for D-Will.
Can’t wait until the trade deadline
Brooklyn would be better off keeping Williams than waiting and trying to swing a deal at the trade deadline.
Ankle injuries have proven to be inevitable when it comes to No. 8, and the likelihood of another team giving the Nets a respectable deal for a noticeably declining, injured player is low.
So despite the fact that he may be having ankle surgery this summer—”Just to clean [stuff out], it's nothing major,” Williams told Mazzeo—he’ll be more appealing in the offseason than at next year’s late-winter deadline.
What can the Nets get in return for Williams? Younger players and maybe a pick or two—it won't be the greatest deal in the world, but it'll be better than nothing.
When King pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer, a two-year window of opportunity to contend was created. And that window is three-quarters of the way closed right now, especially with Pierce set to hit the free-agent market in July.
Figuring out how to trade D-Will, who played second fiddle to Joe Johnson as the Nets' true top player this season, could potentially re-open that window.
B/R’s Howard Beck put it best: “The Nets' rise began with Williams' arrival. Their future hopes may depend on his departure.”
Does D-Will want out, too?
According to Brian Geltzeiler of Hoops Critic, Williams would be in favor of a trade that sent him packing from Brooklyn.
Beck also wrote that the Nets may opt to trade “Williams this summer, retool around Johnson and [Brook] Lopez, squeeze one more run out of Pierce and Garnett and hope for the best.”
The key is to find a team in dire need of a point guard. The Houston Rockets are Brooklyn’s best shot at making this thing happen.
That very deal was discussed near the trade deadline, per Ken Berger of CBS Sports:
It made sense on many levels. The Nets would’ve gotten an insurance policy at center for the often-injured Brook Lopez (who has since been injured again and is out for the year). The Rockets would’ve solved their own center problem, as Asik doesn’t want to remain in Houston. They’ve been trying to get off the Lin contract, and the Nets are one team that wouldn’t mind his $15 million balloon payment next season.
Houston would be inclined to make such a move being that Lin and Asik—two bench players—will earn close to a combined $30 million next season. While the Rockets would still be overpaying D-Will, they'd have a bona fide point guard to stick into an already stacked lineup.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, needs to get younger and deeper. Lin and Livingston could form a similar backcourt to this year's team, while the 7'0" Asik would give the Nets some desperately needed size as well as a presence in the paint.
Trading Williams won’t be easy, but it has to be done.
The Nets have been backed into a corner financially, and pulling the trigger on a deal involving the underachieving Williams will make Brooklyn relevant for years to come.