Life tends to humble people as they get older. Perhaps more than any other profession, the natural decline that occurs as mortality creeps up is magnified in sports.
On Monday, Deron Williams — the three-time All-Star turned journeyman backup point guard — celebrated his 33rd birthday. And in about a week, the Utah Jazz will have an opportunity to give him a belated gift — a contract to play in Salt Lake City next season.
It’s been some time since Williams’ name was shouted in barbershop debates about who the best point guard in the NBA is, normally followed by then-New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul. It’s been exactly seven years since Williams, who averaged more than 24 points and 10 assists at the time, led the lower-seeded Utah Jazz to a first-round series victory over the Denver Nuggets, only to get swept in the semifinals by the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite the accomplishments — the 7,576 points scored, 2,725 shots made and 4,003 assists — Williams’ time with the Jazz is stained by the way he left Utah. Often criticized and blamed for the ousting of beloved Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, Williams was the culprit of chaos for an organization known for being orderly.
But that was eons ago.
Sloan has moved on from the 2011 incident with Williams and is back with the Jazz, working in an advisory role and continuously leaving his long-lasting impression on the team. The coaching situation has been figured out for the long-haul, too.
Quin Snyder has implemented a modern brand of basketball in Utah, and the roster is comprised of contributing players with exponential upside. With a committed Rudy Gobert, a prospect with All-Star potential in Donovan Mitchell and the possible return of Gordon Hayward, the Jazz have changed since Williams’ jersey was a top seller in Utah.
And Williams — through the downfalls of his career and general life experiences — hopefully has changed too.
Since he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, Williams’ career has taken a drastic plunge.
Brooklyn hoped that Williams, along with an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, would help dethrone the Miami Heat. When that experiment failed, Williams was waived in 2015 and later signed by his hometown team, the Dallas Mavericks.
Williams battled injuries and was unable to successfully ride the Mavs to a championship. This season, Williams was waived by the now-rebuilding Mavs and signed by the defending champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, after LeBron James demanded that the team sign a playmaker.
Williams’ role was different in Brooklyn and Dallas, but he remained a starter. In Cleveland, though, he had finally accepted his status and inevitable fate.
No longer capable of filling a major role for a winning team, Williams, a teammate of James’ during the 2008 Olympics, was now a backup to Kyrie Irving, playing 20.3 minutes per game. But more so than just a backup, Williams was a leader and mentor of sorts and, most importantly, recognized it.
“I feel like I can help out in different ways,” Williams told USA Today after scoring 14 points in a Game 4 victory against the Indiana Pacers in this year’s playoffs. “I’m just here to help. When my name is called, just go in there and contribute by making solid plays and not making mistakes.”
Williams showed flashes of the old “D-Will,” but didn’t make a significant difference for the Cavaliers in the playoffs, averaging just 4.3 points and 2.1 assists in 14.6 minutes.
In the NBA Finals, Williams became the subject of many jokes. He averaged a single point and one assist on 13 percent shooting. Actor Samuel L. Jackson tweeted through Williams’ postseason woes and a highlight-reel dedicated to his misses was created on YouTube.
OhhhKaaaay....D Will defies all odds & scores in 2017! FINALLY... Pardon the... Never mind.— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) June 10, 2017
It might’ve been karma for the way he treated Sloan or the way he took the Jazz for granted. Maybe winning a championship on LeBron’s coattails just wasn’t in the cards. Whatever it was, the embarrassment from the manner in which he exited Utah, the failures in Brooklyn and the humiliating stint in Cleveland would surely humble any person, including Williams.
Now, Williams is set to become a free agent and will get calls from several teams around the NBA, even though he’s clearly close to the finish line. The Jazz, who had interest in bringing Williams back last year, are in the market for a veteran point guard.
The two are familiar with each other and in very different spots from when they last saw each other. The Jazz are on the rise and have a lot more on their plate than letting Williams ride off into the sunset with a navy, gold and green jersey on his back.
But a reunion wouldn’t hurt either party. For the Jazz, there is no downside. Instead of giving Williams the Old Yeller treatment, the Jazz could allow their former franchise star to go out on his terms. And who knows — maybe Williams could show glimpses of the old “D-Will,” too.