LAS VEGAS -- On Day 2 of the Team USA media availability here on the surface of the sun, the heat was finally off of Deron Williams.
As dozens of reporters surrounded LeBron James and Kobe Bryant at their respective tables inside the Wynn hotel, Williams -- the 28-year-old point guard who decided last Tuesday to re-sign with Brooklyn with a five-year, $98 million deal -- was more than happy to be old news. He had an audience of three at his table, where SI.com caught up with the candid and reflective three-time All-Star to discuss his past, present and future.
Williams discussed his transition from Utah to New Jersey after he was traded midway through the 2010-11 season, a move that came with the unwelcome reality that he would grow accustomed to losing after so many playoffs runs with the Jazz. He discussed his decision (including the impact that the Nets' recent trade with Atlanta for shooting guard Joe Johnson played in it) as well as the looming possibility that he could still team up with Orlando center Dwight Howard.
The Nets continue to talk to the Magic about Howard, though a source said the Lakers, Hawks, Rockets and Mavericks remain in the mix for him. While the structure of a possible Howard deal with the Nets is mostly in place, sources confirmed that Orlando would not want Nets free-agent forward Kris Humphries in that trade and was looking for a third team to take him in a sign-and-trade. A source with direct knowledge of the Nets-Magic talks said Cleveland had emerged as the necessary third team and that there was significant progress and a chance of the deal being done heading into Monday.
Q: So now that you've had a couple days to get that decision behind you, is it nice to be past it?
Williams: I'm really happy to get past it. I made my decision, and now I can just focus on being a part of the Nets. Getting players in there, help recruit, helping any way I can. I'm really looking forward to the season. I mean we only have I think two guys who I played with last year on this team, so it's really a brand new team for us.
Q: How caught up are you in the situation with Dwight Howard and whether you guys can land him?
Williams: I'm not really worried about [getting Howard]. Of course anybody would love to play with Dwight Howard, but it's out of my control. I think it's on Orlando and who they feel most comfortable with, so I'm just really not going to concern myself and just really focus on these Olympics.
Q: Have you talked to Dwight lately?
Williams: I texted him a couple weeks ago. We texted back and forth.
Q: As a friend, is there part of you that wishes his situation had gone smoother for him with the Magic?
Williams: Yeah, of course, of course. I know it's been tough on him. I know he loves the city of Orlando and has done a lot for that community. I think it's tough for him to want to leave, but I think it'll work out for him in the end.
Q: What is this Team USA experience going to be for you personally?
Williams: It's great. I'm excited. This is my second go-round, my chance for a second gold medal. I'm just excited about playing with this group of guys and playing really competitive basketball. I haven't been to the playoffs for the last two years, so it kind of feels like the playoffs for me. I'm getting a chance to win something.
Q: Kobe Bryant was over there joking about how he's the old man of this group. You're not there in age but you're a vet who, like you said, has done this already. Is that part of your role here?
Williams: We've got a lot of veterans, so to speak, on this team. We've got five guys who were on the team last time and some other guys who didn't play who were older in the league and had been through a lot of wars. I think leadership is pretty much covered.
Q: You haven't been afraid to rib the media for how we operate sometimes and then you go and break your own story. Is that something you were making a point to pull off?
Williams: I just made a decision, told the teams and then tweeted it.
Q: You talked yesterday about the Joe Johnson deal swaying your decision to stay with the Nets. Is that a guy who, throughout the years, you loved the way he played?
Williams: Yeah, I had a great workout for the Atlanta Hawks, who had the No. 2 pick that year, and I felt like their need was a point guard at the time, so I figured they were going to take either me or Chris [Paul], and they went with Marvin Williams [Williams ended up going No. 3 to the Jazz]. So I thought I had a chance to play with Joe back then. But definitely, I've always loved Joe's game. He can score with the best of them, but he does a lot of things well. He can pass the ball, he can rebound. He's a great defender, he can guard most positions. He would usually guard me when we played them, so I like that versatility he has and I'm really looking forward to playing with him.
Q: If you guys don't wind up getting Dwight, is this a top-tier playoff team, or what sort of expectations will you have?
Williams: You never know. You just have to see how our team comes together and what type of chemistry we have. I'm not going to say it's a championship team right now, but we'll have to see how it goes. We're going to have time to grow. Most of us are on longer-term deals, so I'm excited about this year and getting to training camp with these guys and hopefully we can add a couple more veterans for locker room purposes and keeping guys together. You need that throughout the course of the season, especially when you get to the playoffs. But I think we can definitely do some damage. I think we're a team that's built right. We have a lot of guys who know how to play the game now and know how to make basketball plays. It'll be fun.
Q: Like you said, how big will it be for you just to be competitive again?
Williams: Yeah, that's the main thing. It was just tough. It's been tough on me the last year and a half. We had great guys, don't get me wrong, but we didn't really have many stars. It was rough. It was rough just playing the game of basketball the right way. I'm really excited about that, really excited about getting a chance to be competitive, a chance to be in the playoffs again. Watching LeBron and those guys go through the playoffs and win it brought a smile to my face. It feels like Christmas again, like you're going to have fun playing the game. The game wasn't fun to me the last year. It was more of a job, and I don't like that.
Q: It was said by some that this was all about the money for you. That the fifth year on your deal was the only real factor [the Nets could offer a five-year deal with 7.5 percent raises while all other teams could offer only a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises]. That the case at all?
Williams: No, it wasn't. Honestly, when I thought about my decision and talked to my agent, we never once talked about the extra money. I don't think it's as relevant as people think, because of the taxes and things like that. There's no state tax in Texas, and you've got city tax in New York. So the money wasn't that big of a difference in the four years to the five years. And I feel like barring any career-ending injury, that I'll have a chance to make that up anyway. I'll be 32. That wasn't my concern. My concern was making a basketball decision as far as the players that I was going to be around.
Q: I'd been told you grew very close to Nets GM Billy King and coach Avery Johnson since you'd been with them. Did your trust in them and those relationships factor in?
Williams: That was a big part of that as well. I definitely have a good relationship with both of those guys, and that was something that I didn't have so much in Utah. It's different. It's great. I love the organization. They're a family-friendly organization, always thinking of ways to be the best, and I like that.
Q: How tough was the losing for you, when you're talking about the day-to-day experience? [The Jazz were 247-163 during Williams' five full seasons there, reaching the playoffs four times, the second round three times and the Western Conference finals in his second season. In his one and a half seasons with the Nets, Williams' team has gone a combined 29-62].
Williams: This was my first time losing like this in my entire life. And when you're on the outside looking in, you see guys on losing teams and it kind of looks like they're not trying, but I don't think that's it. But I would get deflated at times, and kind of depressed. Just because when I was with the Jazz my first couple of years, I felt like when we got on the court we were going to win. Sometimes we didn't, and sometimes we came out and laid eggs, but then other times we played great and won. You almost catch yourself just going, "OK, well I'm just out here playing. We're not going to beat the Heat." Sometimes you think that way, but you've got to train your mind and get over that and put your mind past that and go out and play. And we did that a lot, too. We beat Chicago in Chicago, we beat New York in New York. But at times you'd catch yourself falling into losing.
Q: You made some comments last season where you could tell you didn't want to be disrespectful to your teammates, but you were making the point that you guys needed serious help with that roster. That had to be a tough dynamic in the locker room on the floor.
Williams: Everybody was great [off the floor], but we didn't have the most talented team. We had six guys go down with season-ending injuries. That's a huge part of it. We had D-League guys in and out, in and out, playing significant minutes. That's a challenge. You never really get into a rhythm, fighting double teams and triple teams every night. As a point guard, thinking you have to go out and score 30 every time just to get a chance to win. You force shots, you force things. I led the league in turnovers this year, which I hate.
Those are the things I'm looking forward to next year, just knowing that those things won't happen. I won't have to force shots; I won't have to shoot stepback threes over three people. I'll have weapons out there. I can go back to being a point guard. That was one of my main focuses, was going to a place where I can just be a point guard.
Q: On the Dwight front, are you getting daily updates on where it's at and how hands-on are you in terms of that pursuit?
Williams: They update me on what's going on. I talk to Billy a lot. We talk pretty much every day at some point.
Q: Are you optimistic they'll get it done?
Williams: I like Brook Lopez. He's a great player. I think he's kind of an overlooked, underappreciated, because he's been on some bad teams himself, so those things happen. You see that with a lot of guys. When they're on teams that aren't winning, people forget about them. And he was hurt all last year, so I think he's been working really hard, especially in the weight room, improving his body and strength. I think he's going to have a big year next year.