Deron Williams has found a new home, with the defending NBA Champions in Cleveland.
Just a few days after his tenure with his hometown Dallas Mavericks came to an end, D-Will officially signed a contract on Monday to finish the 2016-17 season with the Cavaliers as they look to repeat as NBA Champions. He spoke to the media before the Cavs played host to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night and noted that though plenty of suitors came calling when he was waived by the Mavericks last week, Cleveland made the most sense for several reasons.
“Once Dallas did inform me that they wanted to go in a different direction, the Cavs were probably the first team that jumped out at me. A lot of times you try to overthink things. But I kind of went with my first thought,” Deron said. “At the end of the day, I just felt like this was the best fit for me. It was a team that showed interest in the offseason in signing me, and one where I think my name was kind of thrown around all season.”
D-Will, who will wear No. 31 in Cleveland, was greeted by a standing ovation from Cavs fans at Quicken Loans Arena during the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game, and the excitement for his arrival permeated throughout the team.
”I’m very excited,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of having Deron in the fold. “I saw the fans were excited today. [Deron] is excited. Anytime you’re a very good player and you get a chance to get a new start on a great team is something you look forward to.”
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 28, 2017
D-Will joins an already loaded Cavaliers roster led by the league’s biggest star, LeBron James, as well as NBA All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who is currently out with a knee injury.
Big man Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith rounded out Cleveland’s starting five early in the season, but Smith too is out injured. His role in the backcourt has been filled by Iman Shumpert and D-Will’s former teammate in Utah, Kyle Korver. Deron said his familiarity with several players on the team, including James and Korver, helped make his decision to come to Cleveland.
“I know a lot of guys on this team,” he said. “I played with LeBron in the Olympics, played with Kyle. He’s one of my good friends and we still talk to this day. So I just felt like I’d be comfortable here.”
In the short term, D-Will’s role in Cleveland will like come as leader of the team’s second unit, which these days features a slew of veterans like Korver, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, as well as youngsters like Derrick Williams, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae. Helming that crew is where Coach Lue envisions D-Will at the outset of his Cavs career.
“I think commanding that second unit and really taking it under his wing in getting guys shots, getting guys involved and looking to score the basketball,” the Cavs coach said. “We want him to take the pressure off of LeBron to handle the ball the whole time with that second unit. We know he’s a great pick and roll player so I can’t wait to get him acclimated to what we’re doing.”
The addition of D-Will fills a need that James, the leader of the Cavs, had been speaking about for months, that of a “playmaker,” who not only lead the second unit, but make a difference with the starting or closing five if his number is called. After the move was announced, James sang the praises of Deron, with whom he shared the floor for Team USA during undefeated gold medal runs through the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
“Automatic leadership,” LeBron said when asked what Williams will bring to the Cavs. “He’s run a franchise – multiple franchises – before, so you know he knows how to run a ballclub. He’s played in big games before, so you know he won’t shy away from the moment. He can knock down shots and he can play-make. I’ve played with him a couple times, obviously in international play, so that’s going to help out a lot.”
Deron’s playoff experience is also not to be understated. Though he’s never been to the NBA Finals, over the course of his 11-year NBA career, D-Will has helmed eight playoff teams.
He helped the Utah Jazz reach the Western Conference Finals in just his second NBA season and after being traded to the Nets helped a franchise that hadn’t been to the playoffs in half a decade reach the postseason for three straight seasons. Brooklyn hasn’t come close to returning to the postseason since his departure. In 72 career playoff games, D-Will has averaged 18.5 points and 8.2 assists per contest.
In 40 games with the Mavericks this season, all starts, Deron averaged 29.3 minutes per game, and tallied 13.1 points and 6.9 assists per games. His minutes will likely be lower as mostly a reserve in Cleveland, but he still anticipates having a big role as the Cavs attempt to secure home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference and load up for their playoff run.
“I felt like I’d have a significant role here, with the need for a backup behind Kyrie – and also being able to play with Kyrie. I think we have a chance to play together and do some special things. And, of course, competing for a Championship – which I haven’t had a chance to do,” D-Will said. “This team is loaded from top to bottom. It’s really deep – has a lot of distributors, a lot of weapons. And obviously a lot of championship experience. So that’s all the things you need to make a run in the playoffs, and it’s definitely poised to try to repeat.”