Deron Williams has found his footing with the Dallas Mavericks.
BOSTON — His signature beard is still perfectly manicured, although his traditionally mossy mop of hair has disappeared. “You lose your hair, you shave your head,” Deron Williams frankly declares.
The Dallas Mavericks’ new 31-year-old starting point guard has returned to the Wild West he once commanded, far from the electric, sophomore phenom who led the Utah Jazz to the Conference Finals nine seasons ago.
Long gone is the great debate about whether Williams or Chris Paul is the NBA's best point guard. Williams's wicked crossover has tempered. A turbulent half-decade with the Nets nearly shattered his confidence to a point beyond repair.
“I spent four years just being injured. Injury after injury after injury,” Williams tells SI.com. “That just takes a toll on you. You’re playing hurt, you can’t get where you need to go, you can’t get by people, you start missing shots, you start questioning everything.”
The American Airlines Center stands just over 25 miles from his old high school, The Colony, and Williams has returned home for his career’s second act, prepared to embrace a secondary role. “My days of scoring 20 and 10 are over. I know that,” Williams says. Through 11 games with Dallas, Williams has averaged fewer field goal attempts than at any other point of his career and is operating under the lowest usage rate since his rookie year.
He’s brought a certain poise to Rick Carlisle’s free-flowing, pick-and-roll heavy offensive system that employed speedy jitterbugs like Monta Ellis and Darren Collison in recent years. “He’s just a different style of player. Jason Kidd was a bigger-type point guard, but Jason wasn’t the same kind of scorer that Deron is,” head coach Rick Carlisle says. “He can hurt you inside, outside. Whenever we played Brooklyn he teed off on us big time, especially when he came back to Dallas. So I was anxious to get him back home playing for our team instead of somebody else’s.”
Williams accepted a reported $27.5 million buyout from Brooklyn on July 11. He inked a two-year, $11 million deal with the Mavericks three days later, leaving just 36 hours to find a house in a respected school district before embarking on a two-week European vacation with his wife.
The on-court assimilation has been nearly seamless. After overcoming a nagging preseason calf injury, Williams is averaging 13 points and 5.4 assists per outing and has fit nicely in Carlisle’s backcourt alongside fellow newcomer Wesley Matthews, who was a rookie in Utah during Williams’s first All-Star campaign in 2009–10.
“Obviously he’s older and battling injuries and a mentally tough time in Brooklyn,” says Matthews. “But his spirits are up. He’s fighting. He’s positive.”
Off the court, Williams has strived to erase an often-negative perception that has swirled ever since rumors developed about his role in Jerry Sloan’s departure from Utah. Part of that process in Dallas included Williams hosting the entire Mavericks roster at his house for a Halloween party. “He’s been a great leader," says Chandler Parsons.
“I don’t get the whole ‘bad rep thing’ with him,” Parsons continues. “We’re in a group thread. He’s always organizing group dinners and get-togethers.”
Of course, Williams’s transformation from superstar to supporting cast member won’t truly be complete until the playoffs. He led the Jazz to four-straight postseason appearances before he was traded to New Jersey. The Nets reached the playoffs in each of his last three years with Brooklyn.
“We ain’t even got our rhythm yet,” Williams says. “We get JaVale [McGee] back, there’s no telling how good we can be.”
After trailing the Celtics by as many as 18 points in the first half on Nov. 18, the Mavericks nursed a two-point lead with 21 seconds remaining. Emerging from a timeout, Williams calmly drained four free throws in the game’s final moments, clinching Dallas’s gritty 106–102 comeback victory.
Williams has been there before. Now can he do it again?