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Deron Williams trying to help build Nets' relevance in New York

The Brooklyn point guard is a big part of a rebuilding process for a Nets team that historically has been overshadowed by the Knicks.

November 24, 2012|By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times
  • Deron Williams is averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 assists per game in the Nets' first 11 games.
Deron Williams is averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 assists per game in the Nets'… (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )

They've been the younger cousin with the bad haircut, wearing slightly out-of-fashion clothes, and for years, the target of endless jokes.

At best, they might get a condescending tap on the head.

Even worse, ignored.

This could easily describe what the Clippers have been dealing with for decades in Los Angeles, trying to gain traction in a town obsessed with the soap-opera twists and turns of the storied Lakers.

But the scenario also could describe the New York area. The Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, neatly repackaged and rebranded, aiming for relevance in the vast shadow of an iconic franchise, the Knicks.

Chris Paul is trying to do it on one coast with the Clippers. Then, why not Deron Williams attempting it on the other with the Nets?

Point guards leading teams out of purgatory?

"There are definitely some similarities, I think," Williams said. "Two franchises that have been, for the most part, struggling. There have been some good years — some bright spots — but for the most part struggled.

"And now, have taken on new identities. It's been fun being a part of this rebuilding process, this growth. I'm definitely excited about the opportunity."

Williams was talking Tuesday after the Nets' shootaround at Staples Center, where, many hours later, his missed three-point attempt with four seconds remaining could have tied the game against the Lakers. But the Lakers held on, winning 95-90, in Mike D'Antoni's debut as their coach.

It was the Nets' first loss in six games. The last time the Nets had won five straight games was in 2006. Their longest winning streak last season was three games and they had one eight-game losing streak.

As recently as 2009-10, the Nets were a woeful 12-70, recording a franchise record for losses. They lost their first 18 games of the season and ranked last in the NBA in attendance.

Williams would end up arriving a season later from Utah, via a multiplayer trade. There was hardly a groundswell of support around that move with most thinking his stay with the Nets would be brief.

At the time, Paul denounced the move, tweeting: "Utah traded Dwill?? #EpicFail #notagoodlook #trippin #comeonson"

Skip ahead to the present and the epic failing of conventional wisdom. Paul and Williams, the latter armed with a five-year, $100-million contract, faced off Friday night in the Nets' shiny new home, the $1-billion Barclays Center. Brooklyn won by 10 points despite a subpar shooting night from Williams, who went three for 10 but had eight assists.

Williams, a three-time All-Star in the league, is averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 assists this season. New teammate Jerry Stackhouse, the much-traveled veteran, noted changes in Williams this season in multiple departments.

"He is still improving," Stackhouse said. "I think he has a lot of room to get even better, which is the scary thing. Once he gets rid of some of the marginal plays in his game — some of the turnovers — when he gets that out of his game, the sky is the limit.

"He's taken a big step in the right direction. We're seeing it [leadership] with the team. Instead of somebody maybe dropping one of his passes — that he feels they should have caught — where he might have put his head down, now he's coming over and giving guys a pat on the butt. Like they'll get the next one."

One front-office NBA executive compared the affect of Williams on the Nets with other blockbuster moves in recent years.

"I think Deron is a great player, but I don't think Deron makes average players better, the same way Chris Paul does, the same way James Harden can," he said. "Even Carmelo [Anthony] making the opposing defenses overcompensate for his presence on the court. The game becomes easier for his teammates.

"The same way with Dwight [Howard]. He just attracts so much attention and changes your game plan that he makes the game easier for everyone around him."

In fact, Howard and Williams had once talked about playing together as far back as four years ago, but it really never came close to fruition despite the years of rumors. Williams said they had not spoken recently but not because of any ill will.

"I don't think it's any animosity," Williams said. "I've been busy. He's been busy. I haven't really talked to any of my friends around the league this year. It's been so hectic."

He paused, adding: "Four kids at home. So my time is limited."

In addition to four young kids at home, Williams had a household full of family members when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.

They were without power for several days.

"It was a good time to bond and to sit around and talk," Williams said. "Some things you don't do when you have gidgets and gadgets. We were a lot better off than a lot of people. So we felt like we were in a blessed situation. We didn't have power, but other than that we were fine."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

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