Then he was traded to the now-Brooklyn Nets.
Then he was handed a five-year, $98 million contract.
Then he started to regress.
Now he's approaching rock bottom.
Fresh off a disappointing season that saw the Nets sneak into the playoffs more so in spite of him than because of him, Williams is no longer a superstar. He's a question mark—a painstakingly expensive, wildly overpaid question mark.
But is his contract now the worst of all severely pumped-up pacts?
This past season was one for Williams to forget.
Sadly, he'll always remember it. We all will. It was, for the most part, a disaster maligned by blown expectations and collective and individual disappointment.
General manager Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov green-lighted an expensive summer that culminated in the arrivals of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pairing them with the starry Brook Lopez, steady Joe Johnson and Williams himself made the Nets instant contenders.
Williams was at the center of it all, the salient force that would turn this star-rific goulash into a close-knit contender. Garnett and Pierce were in Brooklyn for their fire, not to be central superteam figures. Rookie head coach Jason Kidd planned to lean on Williams before anyone else. The pressure was thick and heavy and real.
Soon enough, it became abundantly apparent that expectations—for both the Nets and Williams—were much too high.
Hampered by more ankle issues, Williams appeared in just 64 games. The end-of-season surge many have come to expect never came. He was consistently underwhelming.
Visibly limited, Williams averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists in 32.2 minutes per game, his lowest totals since 2005-06 when he was a rookie. He was not the near-$100 million man Brooklyn needed hiim to be during the regular season. That Williams never showed up.
Not even during the playoffs.
Through two postseason rounds, Williams averaged just 14.5 points and 5.8 assists on 39.5 percent shooting, all of which mark career playoff lows. The once-bullishly athletic point guard disappeared for minutes, quarters and games at a time. His explosion was replaced with hesitation, his confidence overrun by physical demons.
No relief has been offered to D-Will in the wake of Brooklyn's second-round exit. The team announced that he was forced to undergo surgery on both ankles. While the procedures were successful, he's expected to be on crutches for four to six weeks before beginning rehabilitation.
The concept of a full recovery feels foreign and impossible at this point. Williams has incurred so many injuries that his decline has been the one thing Brooklyn can count on.
Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley wrote the following in January, and unfortunately for the Nets, it still applies today:
He'll need some careful monitoring and more stumbles are likely, if not inevitable. But even in part-time duty he'll out perform some of his full-time peers.
Unfortunately, that's not what a championship-or-bust team wants to hear, let alone a team committed to coughing up this kind of cash to a part-time player.
“I feel like I've kind of let people down, so I don't like feeling like that," Williams said, per ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. "I used to step on the court and feel like I was the best player no matter who I played against, so I gotta get back to that."
This is who the Nets have more than $63.1 million invested in between now and 2017—a point guard already reflecting on who he once was.
Building a comprehensive list of the NBA's worst contracts isn't hard. There are so many to choose from.
The ridiculousness of player deals, however, is purely subjective. What one person considers unfair isn't universally hated.
Even so, there are a select few who have been attached to this horrible contract conversation constantly. You know who they are, and you'll find them below, accompanied by their 2014-15 salary:
- Amar'e Stoudemire ($23,410,988)
- Joe Johnson ($23,180,790)
Correct, for so long, this has been a battle of two—a clash that Stoudemire usually won.
For good measure, let's throw in a couple of more financial doozies for us to consider, all of whom will again be presented with their 2014-15 salary:
- Rudy Gay ($19,317,326)
- Carlos Boozer ($16,800,000)
- Eric Gordon ($14,898,938)
- Josh Smith ($13,500,000)
- Gerald Wallace ($10,105,855)
- Any deal Andrew Bynum signs
There are others, of course. From Kendrick Perkins to Andrea Bargnani to Carl Landry to Larry Sanders, there are just so many contracts to regret and fear.
Here's the thing: Williams' deal is worse.
Name whichever player you want. Williams' contract is less desirable.
Most bad covenants are workable. They contain annual amounts that don't creep into the $15-plus million range. And as for the more prominent financial follies, well, all of them have quietly ceded control of this unsavory award to Williams.
Stoudemire is slated to be the second-highest paid player in NBA next season, but his deal boasts a bright silver lining: It's almost over.
Next summer, STAT's pact comes off the books. Same goes for Gay, whose deal can end even sooner if he opts out this July.
Boozer's deal has been terrible for a while, yet his ends next season as well. The Chicago Bulls have also had the ability to amnesty him and thus far have chosen not to, so it's never seemed quite as bad.
Longer deals are the enemy. Players like Gordon, Smith and Wallace aren't very attractive trade pieces. At the same time, their salaries are manageable. In the case of Gordon and Wallace, their pay grades come off the books by 2016.
Williams, by comparison, will earn $18,466,130 next season and is signed through 2016-17. He holds an early termination option, but he's not going to exercise it. There's no way he'll net $22-plus million a year on the open market.
For those wondering about Johnson, his contract is still bad. But not as bad.
Though Johnson's regular-season performance wasn't flattering, he took over for Brooklyn in the playoffs, averaging 21.2 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting. He's also off the ledger by 2016, one year before Williams.
By now, Williams is at the point where Stoudemire's and Johnson's contracts would be easier to stomach, be it because they're ending or they're simply more reliable players.
How's that for overpaid?
Winning the Wrong Award
One of the more dodgy deals few people are talking about belongs to Derrick Rose.
Chicago's point man has played in just 50 games over the last three years—playoffs and regular season—and is owed nearly $60.3 million through 2016-17. And yet, his name isn't mentioned in the same breath as Stoudemire's, Johnson's or Williams'.
Why? For all kinds of reasons.
Rose is a younger 25. The Bulls have exceeded their ceiling without him, which has helped quell most detractors. Trade rumors also haven't cropped up the way they have for Williams.
The Houston Rockets tried to deal for Brooklyn's floor general using a package headlined by Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik this past February, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger. No such chatter has been coming out of Chicago over the last three years.
In a way, Rose's extensive absences have helped his stock. Ask yourself this: Which player would you rather trade for, Williams or Rose?
If your answer is Williams, congratulations.
Have fun on your island.
Both point guards are on identical contracts. Rose actually costs less. Given the option, you trade for him. He's cheaper, younger and comes off the books around the same time.
But he's also a mystery.
Williams has given us a glimpse of what to expect. He's played, and the results haven't been pretty. He ranked 12th in annual salary, but 76th in win shares (5.4), behind backup point guards like Patty Mills (5.6), Darren Collison (5.9) and D.J. Augustin (6.2).
Whereas we don't know if Rose will return to form, Williams seems like he won't. That's a big difference.
Everything changes if Williams raises hell next season, attacking and distributing, sprinting and bulldozing, wowing and winning the way he used to. Yet with each passing injury and form of disappointment, a revival of sorts becomes less and less likely.
For years now, the Nets have been waiting, hoping that he could finally be the player he used to be. More than three years into their time with Williams, Bleacher Report's Howard Beck says they may be done waiting:
It's hard to say what the Nets might get for a 29-year-old former All-Star with bad ankles and $63 million left on his contract, but it's worth exploring. The Houston Rockets tried to acquire Williams last December, so it's not inconceivable that another team desperate for point-guard help might inquire.
The Nets' rise began with Williams' arrival. Their future hopes may depend on his departure.
Pushing 30, the grace period for Williams has ended. Reality has set in, and it isn't pretty. It's weird, unforgiving and potentially inescapable.
"We worked hard in the off-season, all season long, and now it’s over," Williams said after Brooklyn was eliminated by the Miami Heat, per his official website. "It’s definitely tough to swallow right now."
Tougher to swallow is the truth—the cold, hard, callous truth.
There's a new "worst contract" in the NBA.
It belongs to the fallen star that is Deron Williams.