The ingredients are there for an interesting dynamic, to put it politely, between the point guard and the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.
Deron Williams has been labeled as hard to coach since Jerry Sloan opted to step down after 23 years at the helm of the Utah Jazz after a heated argument with his star point guard. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has had plenty of his own conflicts with point guards, most recently with Rajon Rondo, whose brief stint in Dallas ended in an ugly divorce midway through a first-round playoff series.
The Mavs need this relationship to work for them to have any hope of winning a playoff series for the first time since Carlisle and Jason Kidd worked together to help bring a championship parade to downtown Dallas in the summer of 2011.
So far, so good.
"I've really enjoyed getting to know him and working with him," said Carlisle, whose 10-7 team faces Rondo's 6-12 Sacramento Kings on Monday. "I've always had great respect for his game. Two months into this, he's flat out one of the best players I've ever coached."
Put that last statement in the hyperbole category. Williams is putting up solid numbers (14.1 points and 5.6 assists per game), but he isn't close to the kind of production he had in days not too long ago, when his name came up early in conversations about the NBA's premier point guards.
Then again, neither is Williams' salary close to a premier level. He's a bargain for $5.5 million, a fraction of the max salary the Brooklyn Nets were paying Williams before buying him out of the final two seasons of his contract.
Williams, who received $27 million to bolt Brooklyn, wasn't worried about money this summer. He wanted a stable situation with the hopes of revitalizing his career.
"I just looked at it as a fresh start, man. Just no expectations," Williams said. "I guess you could say kind of hitting the reset button."
After playing for four coaches in his last four seasons with the Nets, Williams craved a chance for "continuity, consistency, chemistry." The opportunity to play for Carlisle, the NBA's third-longest tenured coach, offered that.
Of course, so did the opportunity to play for Sloan to start his career. Williams regrets how that relationship ended, staining his reputation for the rest of his career.
"Sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me," Williams said. "You know, some of those days, I wish I could have controlled them, but I was young, hot-headed and just wanted to win. I'm a lot more mellow now, I think sometimes to a fault.
"The situation in Utah and how the media reacted kind of took my passion away, my fire away a little bit, because it's like I couldn't be who I was. I got into it with Coach [Sloan] maybe a couple of times. I've seen him get into it with a lot of guys a lot worse, but it happened that he decided to step down after one of our arguments. So of course, it's my fault. It's just something that you've got to live with, you have to take."
Carlisle says he admires Williams' humility and enthusiasm for the situation with the Mavs. However, he doesn't agree with Williams' description of himself as mellow to a fault.
"Categorically in my mind, he's an edgy competitor," said Carlisle, who considers health the most important issue for the 31-year-old Williams and has appreciated the point guard's professionalism. "Look, I can't speak for what happened in Brooklyn or New Jersey or Utah, but with us, he's been a terrific competitor and a terrific team guy."
That competitiveness doesn't extend to play-calling responsibilities, a source of friction between Carlisle and a couple of other former All-Star point guards he coached, Kidd and Rondo.
Carlisle prefers not to call many plays -- wanting the Mavs to play fast and get good looks from random, flow basketball -- but he handles the majority of those. Williams has no complaints about it.
"I knew he was a great coach," said Williams, who cites the presence of Carlisle as a reason he could envision himself staying in Dallas long-term. "I heard he likes to call plays, which is fine by me. I mean, I know I can, but I feel like he has a better grasp on the offense and what he wants, especially at this point. I don't feel like it's impeding on our play or what I'm trying to do or what the team's trying to do at any point."
Williams and Carlisle share a couple of goals: Win a lot of games and get the point guard's career back on track. The latter is necessary for the former to happen. That's a firm foundation for a productive relationship between the pair.