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How the Deron Williams trade haunted the Nets for 7 years

Deron Williams

With the Brooklyn Nets facing the Utah Jazz on the road on Tuesday evening, it’s worth looking back at one of the most impactful trades in recent memory between the two franchises.

The Jazz traded then-two-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams at 26 years young after five-plus seasons with the Western Conference team. Williams was a third overall draft pick by the Jazz in 2005, coming out of the University of Illinois, and turned into a top floor general up until the trade was completed.

What followed were mildly successful seasons with Williams at the helm of the New Jersey–turned Brooklyn Nets offense. With Williams and young center Brook Lopez, the Nets moved to the Barclays Center in 2012 and rattled off a string of postseason berths after several down years in the post–Jason Kidd era of the franchise.

On the heels of missing three consecutive trips to the playoffs, the Nets acquired Williams, who suffered from a wrist injury, preventing any forward momentum for the team. The Nets missed the playoffs that year and the next, but Williams’ urgency to add more star talent is what really changed the trajectory of the franchise.

Prior to the 2012-13 NBA season, Brooklyn traded for the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, sending three future first-round picks to Beantown. Partially due to Williams’ inability to step up in the way Brooklyn believed would happen upon acquiring the All-Star guard, the Nets had to totally nuke assets in order to trade for the aging stars in Garnett and Pierce.

Additionally, Brooklyn traded for Atlanta Hawks All-Star guard Joe Johnson the same summer—building a fragile but talented core around Williams and Lopez.

The Nets never achieved their ceiling with Williams and company, however. They lost two first-round playoff bouts (to the Chicago Bulls and Hawks), and made it to the conference semi-finals in another season—their peak before three more playoff-barren seasons during the rebuild amidst zero natural first-round draft picks.

Williams was waived by the franchise before the 2015-16 season. His career in a Nets uniform was largely a disappointment with multiple injuries plaguing any chance of repeating success he had in Utah. Williams finished averaging 16.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game, appearing in 277 contests for New Jersey and Brooklyn.

Williams, at 35 years old, is out of the NBA now, and his professional career was strangely derailed due to his five-year sojourn in Jersey and Brooklyn. He tried hanging around with the Dallas Mavericks and LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers, but Williams was never the same player after turning injury-prone with the Nets.

The Williams story is something Nets fans are hoping new star point guard Kyrie Irving stays far away from during his tenure at the Barclays Center. One reason that shouldn’t happen was the way Irving arrived—calling on All-Star pals Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan to join him in Brooklyn as opposed to the many trades the franchise’s front office had to execute to bring in Williams, Garnett, Pierce, and Johnson.

The future of the Nets is much clearer with Irving on board than Williams, although the latter’s specter provides a ghost story filling in one reason the organization has underachieved in the 2010’s.