Now, Williams is the team’s franchise player as it moves to Brooklyn and the $1 billion Barclays Center.
His recent accolades speak for themselves:
Last season, he was the only player in the NBA to average over 20 points and eight assists, and finished third in the league in points-assists double-doubles (22). In March, he set the franchise’s single-game scoring record by dropping 57 points on the Charlotte Bobcats.
So what exactly makes Williams so great?
“First of all, he’s got great size. You can’t teach that size and strength that he has, and, he can pass, dribble and shoot,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “He’s a threat in all phases of the game. Whether he’s on-the-ball or off-the-ball, defensively, he does a great job of guarding his position, and you don’t have to double-team a lot when he’s on his man, but he’s also a good help-side defender.”
Newly acquired shooting guard Joe Johnson has only played with Williams for a short time, but can already tell how good of a player he is.
“He can see the floor well,” Johnson said. “He’s a big point guard who can not only score, but can obviously make his teammates better. That’s probably the most important thing. He’s a great off-the-dribble guy, and in pick-and-rolls you probably have to double or do something different to where guys like me and Gerald are going to get wide-open shots.”
Center Brook Lopez was more succinct.
“He can control the entire game without scoring a single point,” Lopez said.
In 2011-12, Williams was bombarded with questions about his uncertain future. The Nets were plagued by injuries, and finished 22-44. During training camp, Williams admitted that he didn’t appreciate his teammates laughing in the locker room after “getting their asses kicked.”
But now the culture has changed. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov invested $330 million in the team’s roster overhaul, and Williams is confident that the Nets can be a playoff team in 2012-13 -- assuming they jell and stay healthy.
The franchise hasn’t made the postseason since 2006-07. It’s up to Williams to lead it back there again.