Deron Williams was 10 days away from playing in his second of three All-Star games when his basketball career took a turn for the worse.
The date was Feb. 10, 2011. It’s the day longtime Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan announced his retirement.
A retirement that came in large part because Sloan had grown tired of dealing with the point guard.
Sloan’s departure still haunts Williams.
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“I had a great 5 1/2 years [in Utah with Sloan] and it was overshadowed by one incident, and it’s just kind of hung over my head since then,” Williams said. “There are definitely some things I could have done differently during my time in Utah with coach Sloan.
I want to prove myself wrong because I started to doubt myself in the past.
Deron Williams on his new start with the Mavericks
“I learned a lot from coach Sloan. I felt like I was incredibly fortunate to come into the league and play for a Hall of Fame coach. He’s probably the best coach I’ve played with to this day.”
Williams, 31, is now playing for the Dallas Maverick after they signed him to a two-year, $11 million free-agent contract over the summer. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start for Williams, who, just three seasons ago was considered one of the game’s best point guards.
However, multiple injuries robbed Williams of his exceptional skills, and he’s joining the Mavs following two of the worst seasons of his 10-year career. But the Mavs are banking on Williams being able to resurrect his star-crossed career and help them escape their own post-championship rut.
It’s an opportunity for a fresh start for Deron Williams, who, just three seasons ago was considered one of the game’s best point guards.
“We did a breakdown film on him and I was astounded with the number of points that he scored late in the year that were drives to the basket,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He was getting to the rim.
“The other thing I really like about him for our situation is that I just like the guys that we can surround him with to make his job easier. I really think he can make the jobs of the guys around him easier as well.”
One of those Mavs players whose job should become easier because of Williams is forward Dirk Nowitzki. But Nowitzki is quick to point out that Williams is no slouch when it comes to scoring.
“He can score in multiple ways,” Nowitzki said. “He can drive, he can shoot, he can post some as a big guard.
“We’re going to utilize a lot of his weapons. I think he wanted or needed or is looking for a fresh start, and I think he still wants to prove a lot of critics wrong.”
Williams took a public relations hit during his subpar seasons with the Nets over the past two years. Williams blamed the slide on a number of factors.
“I was pretty much hurt the whole time,” the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder said. “That had a big part of it. And having four coaches in 3 1/2 years made things tough. Made things tough for everybody.”
But the burden was placed on Williams, who shunned an opportunity to sign a free-agent contract with the Mavs in 2012 and returned to the Nets on a five-year, $99 million contract.
The Nets, however, never got out of the second round of the playoffs during Williams’ tenure.
But Williams said being the face of a franchise in the nation’s largest media market was not burdensome.
“No offense, I don’t read the papers,” Williams said. “I don’t know what you guys are saying about me. I’m probably harder on myself than anybody is hard on me, so that’s been a lot of my problem. It’s just the pressure I put on myself.”
That pressure could become magnified again now that Williams is playing for his hometown team. A 2002 graduate of The Colony, Williams must deal with having friends and family members around him more than usual, along with the constant requests for tickets to games.
But he sees a bright side to this (family) reunion.
“My kids are in school and in their activities, and their grandmas get to come and see them play, play soccer and play volleyball,” Williams said. “And when we need a break we can send them over to her house, so it’s definitely a lot of advantages to it.
38.7 Field-goal percentage last season for Deron Williams, a career low.
“My family mainly has always been my biggest supporters. They know what I’m capable of.”
A two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Williams shot a career-low 38.7 percent from the field last season. Both he and the Mavs know he’s capable of a better performance.
“The important thing there is his health,” said Carlisle, whose team opens the preseason at home Tuesday against Denver. “With the beginning of last year he was coming off double ankle surgery, so it limited him.
“Late in the year he had a really good run and his health was very good. We’ve got to help him continue the momentum with good health.”
As he attempts to rejuvenate his career, Williams would like nothing better than to prove a lot of people wrong. And that includes the person he sees in the mirror.
“I want to prove myself wrong because I started to doubt myself in the past,” Williams said. “That’s what I was talking about — mentally, it just took a toll on me.
“I’ve just got to get out of that rut that I was in the last couple years mentally, and I look forward to this situation. I think it’s going to be better for me.”
Mavs Fan Jam
▪ Sunday at American Airlines Center
▪ Doors open at 1 p.m.; scrimmage at 2 p.m.
▪ Admission is free
▪ Parking is $5 at the Lexus garage