Make Sport Not War
Since Dwight Howard picked up his player option with the Orlando Magic, Deron Williams has been the big free agent prize of this summer. He’s an elite talent with size and explosiveness, elite playmaking and feel for the game and an outside shot – easily a top 5 player at the PG position. Deron has had a turbulent handful of seasons since a fed up Utah Jazz sent him to the NBA’s version of Siberia in the New Jersey Nets, then on the verge of a team-up with Dwight Howard, a W.T.F. move from his Dwightness by picking up next season’s player option left Deron without the assurance he’ll have Howard if he resigns with the Nets this year. Furthermore the “other option”, the Dallas Mavericks, certainly don’t look like a plum deal. Dirk Nowitzki may be a 2nd star, but he just finished his 14th season which is as far as the primes of even the most longevity friendly stars go and both he and the Mavericks certainly didn’t look like themselves this year. The Mavericks also have next to no long term, young talent to surround Deron Williams with. The Mavericks are not a great long term situation for Deron. Their appeal likes with Marc Cuban’s strength as an owner/GM – But is that enough?
The truth is there’s a perfect situation for Deron Williams out there – and they have the capspace enough to sign him this summer. It’s the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are in the 2nd round after a 50 W+ equivalent season and have a loaded group of talented forwards in Danny Granger, Paul George, David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. The biggest thing holding them back is the lack of a finger to pull the trigger on that gun – the backcourt creating talent to make it all come together. If they made a stat comparing PG production to replacement level, they might as well call it “Wins over Darren Collision” – Oh and Collision is their starting point. The Pacers have the frontcourt offense and defensive talent that a star guard would likely make them contenders. Who could be a better fit than Deron Williams? The Pacers would be the perfect supporting cast for him. Granger gives him a secondary perimeter scorer, George hits open 3s and defends at an elite rate, he can play the pick and pop/roll game with David West, and Hibbert anchors the defense and scores in the post. It’s a team with both the talent level and fit to contend for an NBA title year in and year out.
Why is it unlikely Deron signs with the Pacers? Because Indiana isn’t a sexy enough market. That’s essentially what it comes down to. Deron wants the lights and the stardom that Indianapolis can’t provide and it seems like this was the incentive to tell Utah he’s likely on the way out, leading them to trade him early.
If true, Deron is misguided about what creates stars. Is Kevin Durant not a superstar because he plays in Oklahoma City? Was Tim Duncan not a superstar because he was in San Antonio? Even directly comparing it to Indiana, Reggie Miller’s profile has not suffered by playing in Indiana. In fact if anything the media love for him has overshot Miller’s actual caliber of play and reputation in his time.
What creates stars, Deron Williams, is winning games and making deep playoff runs. In particular, if a player is the outright alpha dog and best guy on a title contender, he will be crowned by the media. Players are first and foremost judged historically by their MVP/All-NBA accolades, and then whether they led a team to a title or the Finals. That’s what truly changes the face of a career. Deron Williams has a chance to win an NBA MVP if he signs in Indiana. With him, one of these years the Pacers could end up with the best record in the East and from now on the voters will be looking for a way to not give to Lebron. Furthermore there’s a big difference between the Indiana Pacers franchise and say, the Sacramento Kings. The Pacers have a rich history going back 40 years to the ABA champion teams, they have the nickname of one of the meccas of basketball. At times Indiana has loved basketball more than any other place. When the Indiana Hoosiers revitilized their program this year with a great college season, they were a huge national story. You can be big in Indiana. A star that brings that historic franchise to say, the top seed in the league, will get love from the media. Also one has to consider that Deron Williams joining the Pacers and making them elite can make them a media favorite market. In the NFL the Indianapolis Colts are one of the populist teams and national TV favorites. Why did this happen? Because Peyton Manning transformed the face of the franchise by turning it into a behemoth and winner. Williams can make the Pacers a star market by being there.
Furthermore if I was an NBA player I would be as concerned with my legacy from fans as much as from the neutral casual media. What I would want is a place where I go down in history forever. Where I am the greatest that franchise has seen and they build a statue of me. If Deron Williams won the Pacers their first NBA title he would become immortal. He would mean as much as a sports hero can. On the other hand in Dallas he would likely always be 2nd to Dirk Nowitzki in legacy, even if he brought them another title. If he teamed up with Dwight Howard in Brooklyn he would be 2nd to Howard in stardom, the Nets still would be 2nd place to the Knicks in media play, and the New York area fans have had such a rich history of champions with the Yankees, Giants, Rangers, etc. that it’d be difficult for Deron to truly be immortalized.
The feeling I get with Deron Williams is that he wants his talents to be appreciated. He has been in the shadow of Chris Paul his entire career and has never been thrown in the conversation of top 5 players. Well Deron, the biggest way to get appreciated by the media is to win. The media favors the players on winning teams and shuns the ones on losing teams. By the media’s eyes, once a player starts winning and contending for a title, he’s now a better player and more worthy of the hype. There are no more powerful words for the media than “He’s a winner” and “He’s a loser”. Leading an elite team in Indiana will do more for the Deron Williams legacy than leading a mediocore one in Brooklyn.”. An elite Deron Williams led Pacers team would put him in the “He’s a winner” category, the way Chris Paul and Derrick Rose get called one. Especially considering it’d be a decision made solely to win.
Deron Williams is perfect for the Pacers – They’re a star PG away from contending and that’s what Williams provides. Likewise the Pacers are perfect for him because it legitimizes his career and puts his ceiling at “MVP and Best Player on a Title team” by giving him the elite supporting cast needed, while he remains the alpha dog. Success and accolades are what truly makes stars, not the size of a market. The Pacers talent and needs and Williams free agency lines up just perfectly for him to make this move. Is playing in a bigger city really worth casting off a situation that perfect? I suppose so.