NEW YORK -- During that wonderfully wild February week in 2011, when Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams were shipped to the New York market two days apart, some NBA executives imagined their new careers unfolding exactly as they did Friday night, when Williams was the guy who looked like he was home, sweet home.
The point guard of the Brooklyn Nets attacked the basket, made a mockery of the stopper assigned to him (Iman Shumpert), quarterbacked an offense that shot 58 percent from 3-point range, and inspired Barclays Center fans to chant his name in the same "De-rek Je-ter" cadence forever heard in the Bronx.
Anthony? He missed 15 of 20 shots and appeared totally lost in a New York Knicks system that wasn't designed for him.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Anthony said.
Of course, now that he's a million miles removed from the Mike D'Antoni pick-and-roll approach, Anthony is trying desperately to make his ball-stopping ways work inside the principles of Phil Jackson's triangle. The struggle led to this dispiriting 110-99 loss in Brooklyn, the Knicks' third straight defeat, and provided a temporary stage for Williams to remind observers why many initially thought the Nets got the better end of that trade-deadline week in 2011.
The Nets wanted to do a deal with the Nuggets for Anthony, too, and settled for the trade with the Jazz for Williams as a consolation prize. Only Donnie Walsh, the executive who acquired Anthony at James Dolan's urging, later beat himself up for not knowing Williams was on the market -- and for good reason.
Walsh knew that the point guard was a better fit in D'Antoni's offense and a much better complement to Amar'e Stoudemire, who thrived in Phoenix when Steve Nash was feeding him the ball.
But as it turned out, Stoudemire broke down, D'Antoni rolled over and Williams marked his time with the Nets as a rarely healthy and often disengaged figure who wanted a max-out contract without any max-out responsibility.
Meanwhile, Anthony eagerly played the part of the Knicks' marquee star. He accepted the considerable burdens of being the man in Dolan's Garden and, despite his own flaws, came to play 24/7.
But that was then and Friday night was Friday night. Williams made 10 of 15 field goal attempts, actually moved with an athletic bounce and finished with 29 points and six assists in 33 minutes.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," he said. "That's all it was. ... I felt like we needed somebody to step up, so I just took that upon myself."
It's about time. When Billy King acquired him on the rebound, the Nets general manager called Williams the best point guard in the league and "a cornerstone of our franchise for a long time." As cornerstones go, Williams has left more than a little to be desired.
It hasn't been for a lack of nurturing, that's for sure. Ever since they traded for Williams, the Nets have made almost every move in the name of keeping their point guard happy. They fell over themselves in an endless and futile pursuit of Dwight Howard, threw $100 million at Williams and traded three first-round picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and a team that would win one playoff round and lose $144 million of Mikhail Prokhorov's money.
Along the way, the Nets also sent a lottery pick to Portland to land Gerald Wallace (they feared Williams might leave as a free agent without another competent player such as Wallace in the fold), and that lottery pick turned into Damian Lillard. Also along the way, one of Williams' coaches, P.J. Carlesimo, fielded a call from his good friend at Syracuse, Jim Boeheim, who told him the following after Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson:
"Here's what you do, P.J.: You call in Deron and you ask him, 'What offense do you want to run?' And then whatever he says, you run that offense."
Williams had helped run Johnson out of town by unfavorably comparing his iso-centric offense to the flex system run by the longtime Utah coach Jerry Sloan. The same Jerry Sloan whom Williams sent into early retirement with conduct unbecoming a franchise quarterback.
So yes, Williams was a handful long before the Nets hired his friend, golfing partner and point guard mentor and idol, Jason Kidd, who said on arrival that he planned to return Williams to the top of the league at his position. That didn't work out, either, though Kidd's own staggering selfishness killed the partnership before it ever had a real chance.
Another old guard, Lionel Hollins, takes his turn with Williams now, and what Hollins got against the Knicks was vintage Williams, Utah Jazz edition, all night long. Near the end of the third quarter, the playmaker aggressively backed Shumpert deep into the lane and schooled him on a teardrop at the rim.
On the following Nets possession, Williams blew by Shumpert on the perimeter and lofted a floater over Stoudemire and through the rim to give the Nets an 86-68 lead.
"Deron Williams got to do whatever he wanted out there," Shumpert conceded.
"At the end, he started attacking the basket," Hollins said, "when they really weren't expecting him to."
Asked if he'd been healthy for previous Knicks-Nets encounters, Williams said, "Not really. The last two years have been a struggle for me, but they're behind me now."
Truth is Williams is a long way from being in the clear in these parts. He did himself no favors before the season when granting an interview to the Resident, a monthly magazine that advertises itself as a read "for the affluent and culturally savvy Manhattanite."
Williams, an affluent Tribeca resident, missed the culturally savvy part. He said in the story that he didn't feel like much of a New Yorker, that the process of enrolling kids in New York schools was "a nightmare" and that he enjoyed fleeing the big-city traffic and crowds in the summer for the serenity of Utah.
"It's a relief to take that timeout," he said.
No, the locals didn't need to hear that after Williams came up small in the second-round loss to the Heat, highlighted by a scoreless, 37-minute showing in Game 2.
At 30, the same age as Anthony, and with only one playoff series victory to his name in this market (same as Anthony), Williams still has time to make it right. He stepped into the season looking leaner and meaner, compelling Garnett to describe him as a man with an edge, a man with something to prove.
Anthony has been the better player since their trades, and it isn't even close. But the mysteries of the triangle and a sub-mediocre Knicks roster have given Williams an opening the size of the borough he plays in.
On Friday night, he ran through it. If nothing else, it was a start.