OAKLAND, Calif. — What a strange journey it has been for Deron Williams since the Nets paid off the final two years of his five-year, $98.7-million contract two years ago. The three-time All-Star ultimately was waived by the Mavericks last February and replaced as the starting point guard by rookie Yogi Ferrell, a Nets castoff.
If that sounded like a tale of how the mighty have fallen, Williams has enjoyed the last laugh after being picked up by the Cavaliers to back up Kyrie Irving. Suddenly, the player who couldn’t take the Nets deep into the playoffs in just over four seasons as their main man finds himself in the Finals for the first time in his career.
“I’m honored,” Williams said Saturday before practice for Game 2 on Sunday night at Oracle Arena. “I feel like I’m blessed to be playing in the Finals. There’s guys that go their whole career and don’t get a chance to do this. I’m just trying to soak it all in and make the most of it.”
If there’s one thing Williams doesn’t enjoy, it’s looking back on his star-crossed days with the Nets, when he fought through a litany of injuries and played under five different head coaches. “I closed that chapter of my life,” he said.
Whatever bitterness he might feel about that experience fades when he turns the page to the current chapter. Williams knew the Mavs explored trading him, but after that fell through, he admitted his surprise at being waived.
“I thought I was going to be there the rest of the season,” Williams said, “but they gave me an opportunity to come to a contender, to pick where I wanted to go.”
After playing more than 30 minutes per game as a starter his entire career, Williams said it was an adjustment to come off the bench behind Kyrie Irving. But his presence strengthened a deep Cavaliers bench.
Irving said he grew up idolizing Williams when his backup was with the Utah Jazz. “Deron Williams arguably was one of our best point guards in our league, hands down,” Irving said. “And I was watching him going against [Chris Paul], and we were battling who was 1 and 2.”
Williams smiled at that sentiment and said, “Kyrie went to my point guard camp when he was in high school. The tables are definitely turned. He’s one of the best point guards in the game, so it’s not like I’m backing up somebody I shouldn’t be backing up.
“His skill set, his tools he has, man, I didn’t have those tools. I had to rely on my smarts and my creativity. I didn’t have the athletic ability he did. He’s phenomenal.”
In his first Finals appearance, Williams played more than 18 minutes but struggled through an 0-for-4 shooting night with two turnovers and only one assist. But he had plenty of company. After the Cavs’ big three of Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love, the rest of the supporting cast totaled a mere 24 points.
“I played like crap the last game, just never really got into a rhythm, never got my feet under me,” Williams said.
The Cavaliers had 20 turnovers that fueled the Warriors’ transition offense to a lopsided win. “We allowed them to get out and get a lot of easy layups, get dunks, and those things are deflating to a team,” Williams said. “We’ve got to be better, all of us, and the bench is a big part of that.”
Williams will be a free agent after this season, and he has a great relationship with James after winning two Olympic gold medals with him in 2008 and 2012, but he knows this series might determine his future in Cleveland.
“We’ll have to see how the rest of the series goes,” Williams said of the Cavs’ plans for him. “I’m sure that’s a big part of it. But I’ll worry about that in the summer. Right now, I’m not worried about winning anything but this championship.”