Deron Williams didn’t just score the first points in Brooklyn Nets’ history.
The All-Star point guard led the franchise to its first-ever regular-season victory at the $1 billion Barclays Center -- then received the game ball from coach Avery Johnson for his efforts.
“Regardless of his final line, Deron was getting the game ball tonight,” Johnson said after D-Will poured in 19 points and added nine assists in Brooklyn’s 107-100 win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. “Much of this is possible because he re-signed with the Nets. He was vital to the start of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Ever since Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the team in 2010, the Nets knew they were Brooklyn-bound. They just didn’t know if Williams would be joining them.
On Feb. 24, 2011, Nets GM Billy King made his boldest move ever as an executive, acquiring Williams in a blockbuster trade from the Utah Jazz without any guarantees that he’d stay. Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, King remained steadfast in his belief that he’d be able to lock up Williams to a long-term deal.
But it wasn’t until July 3 -- after the “Dwightmare,” after Williams had already opted out and been courted by his hometown Dallas Mavericks, and after King had went out and gotten Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks -- that he informed the Nets GM he was going to take a five-year, $98 million deal to remain the franchise’s cornerstone in Brooklyn.
And after enduring a long and sometimes arduous offseason, Williams finally led the team to a meaningful victory in front of a sold-out crowd, hearing the “Brook-lyn! Brook-lyn!” chants he had hoped for.
“I thought the crowd was great tonight,” D-Will said.
Williams hasn’t been to the postseason since 2009-10. He yearns to get back. King’s $300 million roster overhaul has put him in a position to do so.
Saturday night was just the first step.
“It was definitely good to get a win in our first game in this building for our confidence and for the fans out there,” said Williams, who finally regained power Friday after being without it for several days due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Long before Saturday night’s game, a fan at a local restaurant asked Johnson who he was going to run the first play for.
“... And I just said, ‘Hey, look at the roster. No. 8, right?’” Johnson replied.
Nineteen seconds in, Williams got a screen from Kris Humphries along the baseline and curled toward the left wing. He took a pass from Joe Johnson, squared up and drained a 14-foot jumper over Kyle Lowry.
“I was definitely happy about that looking back,” Williams said.
D-Will was hopeful the Nets would open their season against the rival New York Knicks, but Sandy had other ideas. Still, Williams made the most of it, capping off his night by going 4-for-4 at the free throw stripe in the final 20 seconds to seal the win.
“It was a great night capped off by a win, which is what we want,” D-Will said. “There’s probably not as much excitement as if we played the Knicks, but what can you do?”