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The Inbounds: Deron Williams and the meaning of Brooklyn cool

Jul 4, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

Deron Williams AP

Let’s start here: Deron Williams did not decide to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets because it was his best chance to win an NBA title. And that’s OK.

Williams made a lot of comments about how winning a title would dictate his decision. But the mere fact that he limited his options to Brooklyn and the Dallas Mavericks was proof enough that wasn’t the priority. The Indiana Pacers would have given Williams a better team to contend with, deep, versatile, and well-structured. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and one of the smartest ownership and management groups in the league. But the also have no young pieces and no star power to slide next to Williams and Nowitzki. And the Nets? Well, they took on an albatross with an anchor wrapped around its neck, tied to a concrete block in Joe Johnson‘s contract. That was their big move. It limits their future ability to improve the team, and makes it a near certainty that their core will feature Gerald Wallace and a likely-overpaid Brook Lopez. There were better options to win the title.

But we tend to view these things from a binary perspective. As if the only things that went through Williams’ decision making process were what we felt were important or even what he openly states mattered.

Let’s digress, for a second.

Say you’re considering a move. You have a job offer, and that’s the biggest thing you’re looking at. But aren’t you going to factor everything in? Won’t you consider what kind of weather there is and if you like to live in it? Do you have friends there? Can your spouse stand it? Can you afford to live there?

Is it too close to your family?

Because that’s a huge concern. My brother refers to the concept of a DMZ between he and the rest of the family. Maybe for Deron Williams, playing in his hometown of Dallas wasn’t enough of a buffer zone.

Maybe it was just the money.

It’s fine to consider Williams’ decision and weight it against his stated priorities. It’s fine to question if he’ll win a title or if the Nets are even a top-three team in the league. But let’s not act like this decision was as simple as it is for anyone on the outside. It was what Williams felt was best for his life. He was contractually free to make that decision.

The ramifications of that decision are far-reaching and dramatic. Do you know what the biggest problem the Nets had in pursuing free agents over the past two years has been? It hasn’t been playing in New Jersey, though that was part of it. It wasn’t how God awful the team was, though that was part of it (and that’s the supporting cast now!). It was that the Nets weren’t cool. That shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Playing for the Lakers? The coolest. That’s why you’ve seen players take paycuts to don the purple and gold. Playing for the Knicks? Cool, despite their lack of on-court success. Playing for Boston? Cool, because of the history and classic iconic nature of the team. But the Nets? They were not cool. Not even a little bit. Not even when they were making Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. They were the TCBY of NBA teams.

But now, not just with the Mad Russian owner, or HOVA as minority owner, and a new arena in Brooklyn, but with all that and superstar talent, the Nets are cool. And that has value to players. They want the winning, and they want the money, and they want to feel cool while doing it. The Milwaukee Bucks may never win another title because of this dynamic, and the fact that the Spurs have won four despite not being cool in any way, shape, or form, is more impressive.

The Nets have a Big 3. Unless they get Dwight Howard, which is looking unlikely, they won’t be better than many of the other Big 3’s (but they are on par with New York, maybe better, which is important), and their future prospects get worse with Joe Johnson’s contract swallowing up all light in their cap universe. But they’re in the conversation. They’ll be able to attract those free agents looking to take a discount to compete for a title. They are a big ticket item.

For years, the Nets have been frustrated with being a joke. But now? They’re the awkward kids who went through a growth spurt and now everyone’s starting to notice them.


As for the Mavericks, uh…

Well that’s not going over well.

But one thing should be noted. The Mavericks have always been masters at negotiating smart pieces, not landing huge ones. They rarely made league-shattering trades, but always made smart ones, constantly building forward. The trick for them is going to be getting Dirk’s successor. It was supposed to be Williams, but without him, they’ll have to go forward, adding pieces, building a core, but not having the spire. That’s the same situation Denver’s in, Utah’s in, Philadelphia’s in. But the Mavericks know that just because they lost out on Williams doesn’t mean there won’t be future opportunities. And if they see one, they’ll know enough to go all out for it, and maybe won’t be on uneven ground to start next time.

Cuban and Donnie Nelson have cap space, now and in the future. We’ve seen what can happen to good management when it makes a bad series of decisions in Detroit. But the Mavericks show no such weaknesses. The process has been sound, even if some of it is predicated upon ducking the damage from the luxury tax punitive measures in 2014, and even if the gamble didn’t work out.

There will be some smart moves made, some daring moves made, some surpising moves made. Dallas will hit on some endeavors, swing out on others. But in the end they should remain a competitive team. But the underlying puzzle now is the most difficult for any NBA team: how to acquire an elite player. Dirk can’t last forever. And the lifeboat just sailed away to New York.

  1. aboogy123456 - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Who cares about history, the Nets are the newest big market team and Williams knows this is his best chance to win future titles. Williams is signing a 5 year deal, what other options are out there that are actually better in terms of winning? Don’t compare them to the knicks, even if they don’t get howard they are already much better.

    • elcomandanteenjefe - Jul 4, 2012 at 1:12 PM

      Except of course if you are the typical delusional Knicks fan who thinks that the Knicks are a championship contender. Living in the city, I meet these fans on the daily. They actually thought Lin was going to take them back to 1973.

  2. jerseyfinatic - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Stop reading after the first sentence. BROOKLYN is the best chance he had at winning a title. Wow Matt your as ignorant as Kurt as well. Where was he gonna win a title, with an aging Dirk in Dallas? Who else is in Dallas? 35 year olds.

  3. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    It was all about Peter Lugers sauce and the pie with some schlag.

  4. AlohaMrHand - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Nice to see the rebirth of east coast basketball.if the Knicks can add a couple more pieces that city rivalry will be epic!!

    • saint1997 - Jul 4, 2012 at 9:34 PM

      I agree completely with @AlohaMrHand (creepy name btw). Clippers added great pieces last year and they had a good rivalry that actually became competitive with the lakers and I believe that the same should happen here with BKN and NYK on reasonably equal footing. I’m actually hoping those two play each other in the playoffs as 4 seed and 5 seed

      • Kurt Helin - Jul 5, 2012 at 8:58 AM

        Aloha Mr. Hand is a brilliant name, great Fast Times reference.

      • AlohaMrHand - Jul 5, 2012 at 9:59 AM

        It’s a movie reference.Its from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.Kids these days.Anyhow now that the Lakers got Nash perhaps Howard is on his way to LA next as well.Trade Bynum and Artest( at least that’s what ESPN LA is reporting) for him.We shall see

  5. magicbucs - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Yea how cool. He’s playing in the ghetto of NYC and the B team of NYC. The Knicks will always be #1 in NYC. Like lakers are in LA.
    How cool is that….

    • knightrider1755 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:24 AM

      You must not be a NYer because Barclay Arena is far from being in a ghetto in NYC. I am quite certain you couldn’t afford to live around there. As far as the Knicks always being #1 that’s truly doubtful. The demographics are changing at a rapid pace. The younger generation does not remember the Knicks as a good ball club. Remember the Knicks haven’t won a championship in 40 yrs and have appeared in two NBA Finals in the last 40 yrs, losing both times. If the Nets start winning you are going to see an inevitable shift in attitude, particularly among the younger population fans and even some of the older fans. The Knicks will always have sentimental value to older NYers and that’s it. As a native NYer who still lives in the city,I can tell you that most of us who live here want to see a winning basketball team here regardless of whether it is the Knicks or the Nets, period.

    • itsthemelman82 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      Yeah, you can’t be from NYC with a comment like that. Brooklyn is overrated but, downtown BK where the Barclay center is… IS NOT the ghetto. Brooklyn will never be Manhattan & the Nets will never be the Knicks but, they’re aiming for credibility & that is within reach.

    • akmgiants - Jul 4, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      brooklyns the best (ex) city in the US. we got everything, you got nothing. keep hating

  6. turnmymicup - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    The Joe Johnson move was actually very smart. His contract is something crazy but he will fit in just fine. I’ve been saying for years that Johnson needed to get out of ATL. Now paired up with a true PG he can focus more on shot selection. Johnson had way to much ball handling responsibility in ATL. G-Wallace will provide much needed defense. Knicks are still the team of NYC but the Nets will soon be better.

  7. apmn - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Teams are never going to win a title with players who care more about cool than winning. As a Spurs fan, I hate to use the Lakers as an example, but, to their credit, they haven’t won titles because they are cool. The Lakers have won titles because of Kobe’s overwhelming desire to be the best at all costs.

    • knightrider1755 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

      That’s ridiculous! The Lakers have 16 championships and Kobe wasn’t around for all of them. Why can’t you have both? When you are winning, especially in cities like LA and NY, it makes you cool. I guess it’s hard to be cool in San Antonio because there’s nothing to do there. Just sayin’.

  8. 6thsense79 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    apmn – Jul 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM
    Teams are never going to win a title with players who care more about cool than winning. As a Spurs fan, I hate to use the Lakers as an example, but, to their credit, they haven’t won titles because they are cool. The Lakers have won titles because of Kobe’s overwhelming desire to be the best at all costs.
    Ummm no. Kobe’s overwhelming desire was to be the best player on his team at all cost first. Otherwise why would he have fueded with Shaq and ran him off the team when they could have won more titles together? Also who are the NBA players that care more about cool than winning? Let’s get this straight….For the vast majority of players (or regular working Joes for that matter) the first thing they care about is how much money their getting paid. Then everything else comes. Now some players may not care about money at all but those are ussually the veteran players that have already made their millions and can afford not to care.

    • reycruz24 - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:27 AM

      Ummm yes!!! Kobe’s desire to win turned into 2 more titles after Shaq left. As much as I loved Shaq, he didn’t put in the work like the truly great players do/did (ie Jordan, Magic, Kobe, and even Lebron). He relied strictly on talent and size. If Shaq didn’t have running mates like the determined Kobe or Dwayne, he wouldn’t have won, and would be like his fellow co-host Barkley who was a very talented player who didn’t put in the work to actually win a title. Shaq carried around a huge contract at the end of his career along with an additional 50 extra pounds to Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston. And nobody talks about how Wade was not in disagreement with Shaq being traded from Miami, he had the same complaints as Kobe. Kobe cares about winning and that’s why he throws fits when he loses; a definite poor sport. Kobe has more than justified his contract with his polorizing rep (love em or hate em, people flock to see him), massive jersey sales, his immense talent and CHAMPIONSHIPS. No other star in the league has that under his belt. Also try getting paid millions to have no privacy in life, where everything you do in under a magnifying glass, with private things such as marital issues. Not worth it to me. Oh and DWill for $100 mill, he is considered a TOP 5 player in the league and his team finished dead last in his division, well worth it!

  9. monkeyhateclean - Jul 4, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    Deron’s avarice signed himself to basketball purgatory for 5 years. Of all the teams that could have used a stellar PG, he locked into a team who had just signed a player with the 2nd worst contract in basketball (just behind Gilbert Arenas) and NO Dwight Howard, and the Nyets have ensured they cannot sign any decent FAs for the foreseeable future.

  10. loungefly74 - Jul 4, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    “Playing for the Lakers? The coolest. That’s why you’ve seen players take paycuts to don the purple and gold. ”

    yes, yes, yes. (going a little off topic here) I read previous comments how the Lakers are screwed and are going in a tailspin for numerous reasons and i think they forget that LA will for be a long time, a preferred desination.

  11. philtration - Jul 4, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    Winning championships is cool.
    The rest is like two guys that work for Burger King and McDonald’s fighting over who has the best uniform.

  12. fm31970 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:17 PM

    Maybe he will discover that working at a “cool” business/company doesn’t always mean happiness, just like everyone else with a job. I agree that there are many factors involved in his decision process, but to chose “cool” over “great place to work” is not a wise choice, regardless if you’re an NBA player or a cashier at TCBY (are those even around anymore?). “Coolness” wears off eventually, but hopefully in D-Will’s case, it’ll last five years.

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