Who says Deron Williams isn’t a great leader?
Williams is finally showing the kind of leadership he’s lacked on the court for the Brooklyn Nets the last few seasons. According to NBA sources, the veteran point guard is actively pursuing an exit strategy from Barclays Center and could reach a buyout with the team in the near future.
Not only is Williams seeking to part ways with the Nets, but the Dallas Mavericks, his hometown team, are looking to bring him in to shore up their underwhelming backcourt. The Mavs are convinced that Williams could use a change of scenery to revitalize his flagging career.
Williams and Dallas could be a perfect marriage that the Nets thought they were entering when they signed Williams to a maximum $100-million extension in 2012. Unfortunately, between Williams’ injury issues, on-floor regression, and failure to be a positive force on the court, he’s become a perpetually grumpy salary-cap killer the last two seasons. This past season, he struggled as the team finished in eighth place in the East. He averaged only 13.3 ppg and 6.6 assists while shooting a career-worst 38.7 percent.
Having Williams agree to a buyout would be the best news of the off-season for the Nets, who have been unsuccessful trying to unload his onerous contract, which has two years and $43.3 million to run. His declining play has often been a distraction and the Nets would like to end that as soon as possible, sources said. Depending on what kind of buyout Williams receives, the Nets could avoid serious luxury tax payments in the future, or at least have those penalties reduced.
The Nets’ top potential trading partner, Sacramento, no longer is in the market for a point guard. The Kings brought in free agent Rajon Rondo, who imploded in Dallas this past season after his trade from the Celtics.
Dallas lost out on Williams in a showdown with the Nets in 2012 free agency when he decided to stay in Brooklyn. But the Mavs suddenly have lots of cap space after free-agent center DeAndre Jordan reneged on a verbal agreement to join the Mavs. In a surprise move that dominated the NBA landscape for the past several days, Jordan returned to the Los Angeles Clippers rather than sign for $80-plus million to play for the Mavs.
In addition to having cap room to accommodate Williams, the Mavs also have a need for a playmaker. In addition to letting Rondo go, the Mavs also bid farewell to Monta Ellis, who signed a free-agent deal with the Indiana Pacers. The Mavs’ point guards are all backup quality, starting with former Knick Raymond Felton, former Net Devin Harris and J.J. Barea, who returned to Dallas this week when he agreed to a two-year, $5.6 million free-agent deal.
Dallas is said to be Williams’ preferred destination. Besides being from the Dallas area, Williams would be reunited with former Utah teammate Wes Matthews, who agreed to a four-year, $55 million deal to leave Portland for Dallas. Even with Jordan’s 11th-hour decision late Wednesday to spurn the Mavs and return to the Clippers, it did not change Matthews’ decision to take Dallas’ deal. Of course by that time, Matthews would have found it impossible to find as good a deal, since most of the big money had been spent by then. Matthews is coming off a torn Achilles, leaving many teams to stay away from him as a potential signee.
While the Nets look to reach a buyout in the coming days with Williams, they are also continuing to try to move Joe Johnson. Cleveland is seen as a top destination. Johnson, who makes $24.6 million this season, has been targeted by LeBron James as a player the Cavs need to get to help them attain their goal of an NBA championship.
Ridding themselves of Williams and Johnson would allow the Nets to move on to a new phase, centered around Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, the team’s latest free-agent signees.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence