Deron Williams Talks the Business of Basketball
A deeper look inside the game.
by Tracy Weissenberg | @basketballista
What He’s Playing For
Players mean a lot of things to their franchises, but hope is not an easy thing to represent. When the Nets traded for Deron Williams, he represented a short term fix to a long term goal. It was a move to appease a fan base and provide a quick boost for a team not close to the playoffs and still reeling from last year’s 12-win season.
While DWill has shown flashes of brilliant play, including an NBA-record 58 assists in his first four games with a new team, he has also been beset by injuries. Plagued by a right wrist injury, Williams is currently waiting for it to heal to a tolerable point. In a situation where most would say shut it down, Williams finds himself in uncharted territories. In Utah, he would play through the pain with the playoffs in sight. With New Jersey eliminated, everyone’s sights are on the future.
“I hate sitting out,” said Williams.
“I’m gonna give it one more try,” he said, “Hopefully I don’t hurt it again, which is hard to do, since everything’s so instinctive with your hands and with your wrist.”
When asked which game he was considering for his return, Williams mentioned Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. “That’s a big game,” he said.
While it may mean something to the spectators, he was asked if the cross-river battle had any significance to him as such a new member of the Nets. “I think so. I mean I think it matters to everybody. I think it’s a big game, period. Just ’cause it’s the Knicks, there’s a lot of, you know, animosity between ownerships and some things going back and forth. It’d be a fun game to be a part of I think.”
No Substitute for Veterans
It is usually easy to identify the players that started their careers on teams with veterans. It is also easy to recognize players that didn’t have that type of guidance in the beginning, even if it is several years later in their careers. While teams need talent to win, they need veterans to show the talent how. That means on and off the court.
Nets head coach Avery Johnson spoke about the impact Deron Williams has had on the team, even while he is sidelined due to injuries. That effect on the team alone—hopefully lasting—will be immeasurable for the mostly inexperienced squad. “I’m the player-coach right now,” Williams quickly joked before adding, “It helps; we only have a handful of guys that have been to the playoffs and won in the playoffs. We have two guys that have won championships that can bring that as well. I’ve been in a lot of tough games, a lot of pressure games, and hopefully I can just help with the rest of the guys. You know, it’s just a mentality you got to have to win games and close out games. I think we’re getting better at that, we’re a young team, and things take time, but a lot of it—we’re losing games, the end of games, because of our youth.”
Asked how much he relied on veterans for his own development, Williams said, “A lot. A lot. I think I grew a lot in my second year when I had Derek Fisher there, you know a guy who’s battle tested and has those championships, you know has played in the most important games…and has made big shot after big shot in those games. So it was good to have him, his leadership and his advice in certain situations.”
When Perception is Reality?
Utah felt the need to trade their franchise player, while New Jersey felt the need to acquire one. Asked if he just had to approach it as a business, Williams said, “That’s it right there, it’s a business. It’s a business decision, business deal. I have a new team, a new opportunity.”
However, there is more to a trade than chalking it up to being about the business, since the perceptions of deals vary so greatly. Players that push for trades often fall victim to bad press, while franchises that let players go are considered well within their rights as a business operation. While each deal has to be looked at separately, players and teams should be granted the same objectivity.
Asked how perception alters the way trades are viewed, Williams noted that both teams and players can be affected at times. “I mean, it goes both ways,” he said, “It’s just a tough business. It’s a tough, tough, tough business; tough situations that both sides are put in. Players are put in bad situations, owners and ownership and management are put in bad situations at times and you just have to deal with it.”
I asked Williams if he thought people put enough consideration into how important a situation is for a player, and how much the right or wrong one can affect a career. “It’s easy to look at things on the outside and want to comment,” he said, “I find myself doing it too [with other professional sports]…it just happens, man, that’s the world we live in. That’s the nature, people judge, people feel like they can do your job, but until they do, they have no clue.”
When Doing the Right Thing Hurts
Two-time All-Star David West is averaging nearly 19 points this season for a Hornets team currently 7th in the West. He has a $7.5M player option next season, which he would likely opt out of to test the free agent market. While the Hornets had discussed an extension, the two sides never came to terms.
When I asked him earlier this season if it was a conscious decision to keep his potential free agency out of the spotlight, West said, “Yeah…I feel like it’s something that we’ll address when the time is right, after the year, and go from there.”
West didn’t ask out of New Orleans or make a stir about playing below market value without a new contract. He just went to work as usual, propelling the team instead of distracting it. Everything would have worked out, except last Thursday he suffered a torn left ACL, which ended his season and possibly hindered his opportunity to become a free agent. For someone who tried to do the right thing, it was nothing less than heartbreaking.
I asked Williams for his reaction to the tragic timing of West’s injury. “It’s a tough situation; you never want to see that happen to anybody,” he said, “I’m a big fan of David West, he has a great game, and hopefully he can just get back. He’s still got another year on his contract now. It’s a tough situation that he’s in.”
While Deron Williams and David West are at two different points in their careers, they both are at turning points. The decisions that they make, along with the ones made for them—through business or fate—will affect the way they carry on the rest of their careers. For those on the outside of the situation, it is always worth taking another look at what initially may seem obvious, and waiting a second before drawing the first conclusion.