DALLAS — Although his 2015-16 season was admittedly mired by injuries, three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams also says his first campaign with the Dallas Mavericks helped to rekindle his love for the game of basketball.
Bouncing back from a lackluster ’14-15 season with the Brooklyn Nets, Williams proved to be a valuable contributor for the Mavericks after signing a reported two-year deal worth $10 million last offseason that features a player option for the second season. Last season, Williams averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists for the Nets, appearing in 68 games and making 55 starts. He also connected on just 38.7 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from three-point range, leading to eventual buyout talks with the Nets’ front office. And after battling through nagging injuries to have a productive first season with the Mavericks, Williams will reportedly decline his $5.6 million player option for the next season and test the free-agent market on July 1.
“This has been a great year for me, as far as just being happy and enjoying playing basketball again,” Williams said last week during his exit interview. “You know, with all the guys on the team and the coaching staff, it’s been a great situation for myself. Aside from the injuries, everything was great this season.”
Starting 63 of his 65 appearances this season, Williams ranked second on the team in scoring while averaging 14.1 points an outing. He also pulled down 2.9 rebounds and dished out 5.8 assists a game, connecting on 41.4 percent shooting and 34.4 percent from three-point range to boot.
However, Williams’ ’15-16 campaign was also hampered by injuries near the close of the regular season, missing eight of the final 11 games as the Mavs battled for a playoff position. And after a left abdominal strain and sports hernia forced Williams out of the final four games during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, he admittedly expressed his frustration with his injury situation.
“You know, until the end of the season, none of (the injuries) were really that bad. It was just that kind of the normal wear and tear of the season, but the last couple of months were definitely frustrating for me with not being able to be out there and then not being able to compete in the playoffs. I probably had a good 10 minutes when I could actually do anything the entire time I played in the playoffs, so it’s just frustrating not being able to finish and be out there with my team,” Williams explained.
Returning to the lineup after missing eight straight games, Williams battled through his late-season aches and pains to score 15 points in 29 minutes during a 98-91 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on April 10. He then boosted the Mavs into the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons with a gritty performance the following night, scoring 23 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing six assists as Dallas clinched a postseason berth with a 101-92 win in Utah.
The Colony native didn’t stop putting the team on this back from there, scoring 11 of his 13 points in Game 2 during the first quarter against the Thunder to help the Mavs even the series at 1-1 with an 85-84 victory. And it’s that leadership that makes Williams a needed veteran in the locker room next season, according to both Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
“I thought his year was extremely productive, you know, other than some of the health issues he had to work through,” Carlisle said while speaking highly of Williams. “We most likely wouldn’t have won a game in the playoff series had he not played in Game 2 and come out and gotten 11 points in the first four minutes, or whatever it was. I mean, that was the only time we had a lead in the entire series, and his game in Utah was the one that got us in the playoffs. You know, he was a 20-plus point scorer that night, and it was his second game back from being out two weeks. So, I want to see him healthy. You know, when players get healthy, they’re happy, they compete better and they’re going to play better. But I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He’s a pro and his family are terrific people. And of course, we’d like to see him back.”
“You just can’t say enough about a guy like D-Will,” Nelson added. “Him coming back, he had fun. He had fun for the first time in a long time, and I think he really had an opportunity to express himself. I think Rick used him very well. So, you know, I don’t want to speak for D-Will, but we would love to figure out a way to continue the ride with him as well.”
Expected to undergo surgery later this offseason to repair his sports hernia, Williams could now enter free agency and leave a hole for the Mavericks to fill in the first unit at point guard. However, after a fun-filled season that featured a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to cap off a 117-116 double-overtime thriller against Sacramento on Jan. 5, Williams admits that it would be hard for him to leave his hometown team.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Williams said when asked about his potential free agency. “I just was worried about finishing the season on a strong note. Once I got hurt, the focus was just trying to get back and be able to play, so I haven’t even thought about it. That’s something I will discuss with my agent and my wife, and we’ll figure it out.
“I would love to be back. Like I said, this was a great year for me, and I’m definitely happy here. My family is settled and happy here, so it’d definitely be great to be back. It was good. You know, it was a great situation, and I definitely would love to be back.”