For a few weeks there, we'd have sworn that Jeremy Lin was New York City's megastar point guard that would have every team with cap space on pins and needles come July 1, when free agency begins. Lin, a media darling who has captured the imaginations of fans across the world, has been on some kind of tear over the last few weeks as the Knicks rose from the dead to reclaim a playoff position and almighty momentum.
The Nets, bound for Brooklyn the second this season ends, remain dead. New Jersey is more than six games out of a playoff spot, its solitary prayer one consisting of the Celtics blowing it all up. There's also an outside chance that Lin's magic evaporates and Brook Lopez's return sparks something special and the Nets make a run at the Knicks.
But anything good that happens to the Nets this season and beyond has far more to do with Deron Williams than anything else. The brawny lead, reminding us what he's made of, smoked Lin to the tune of 38 points on 10-22 shooting as the Nets triumphed 100-92 at Madison Square Garden on Monday. The point total is gaudy, but the victory is what says something given the drastic difference between the two clubs. Lin had Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith around him. Williams had ... uh ... MarShon Brooks and Kris Humphries?
Williams is proving that we largely forget about players who end up in losing situations, no matter how hard they fight to turn around the fortunes of their lost franchises. Williams' per-possession rates are nearly identical to those of his best seasons in Utah -- assists, scoring, turnovers, steals -- but because the Nets are awful, he was a fringe All-Star in the East and has been on the tip of no one's tongue. We tempt fate by complaining, but Williams' pending free agency has largely been forgotten outside of the Nets fan community and Dallas' finest conspiracy clubs. Everyone forgot about Deron.
No one who watched Williams obliterate Lin will forget about it soon. This isn't to detract from Lin's breakout, which has been amazing. But Williams has been doing that for years. Back when Deron was leading the Jazz to playoff series wins, he was compared favorably to Chris freaking Paul. Now, we have to wait for a game like Monday's to assert that he's better than a second-year undrafted Ivy League product. Wins color everything, and Williams is in a bad spot as a result. CP3 might not be able to win with this collection of misfits.The only rosters definitely worse from No. 2-13 are Charlotte and possibly New Orleans. That's what Williams is working with.
Because of the fog of failure that obscures Williams' impact, it may follow that the league won't respect his ability to change the course of franchises at the trade deadline and in free agency. Don't get me wrong, teams will still line up to offer a max contract. These GMs aren't stupid. But Williams is just a notch below CP3 in terms of impact, and teams tried to move mountains to land Paul. The same should be done for Williams. The Nets didn't trade for Williams to turn around and lose him 12 or 18 months later, but no one would blame Deron for looking at what's left and deciding to split. The last two free agent periods for the Nets have consisted of abject failure -- no LeBron or Wade or Bosh or even Joe Johnson or Stoudemire in 2010, then no Nene or Chandler in 2011. The club has an incredible hole at small forward and, until Lopez returned from injury, had one of the league's worst frontcourts.
(A tangent: It's interesting that for Williams and CP3 the second location earns a benefit of the doubt. The Nets are clearly worse than the Jazz were, and Utah was concerned that Williams would leave as a free agent, so the team traded him early. And now he maintains that he'll re-sign with the Nets. Why? CP3 agreed to pick up his option for 2012-13 upon being traded to the Clippers, the league's longest running inside joke. Why? The Hornets had been better than the Clippers in recent years; landing with Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups was an upgrade, but had they kept Paul the Hornets could be in the No. 3 spot L.A. currently holds, and no one would bat an eyelash.)
Williams plastered his name back in New York City's headlines Monday night, but he knows as well as we do that it's temporary, that the attention will fade as quickly as it arrives because the Nets are sunk. Williams will play a few minutes in the All-Star Game on Sunday, he'll loll through the Skills Challenge, he'll pop up on HoopsHype a few times through the middle of March. But unless the Nets-Magic trade talks really spike, no one is going to care about New Jersey this season. Deron single-handedly derailed Linsanity, but Linsanity will fight back and carry on. We'll again forget about Deron, because we have so little time for losers, no matter how amazing they are.
Deron Williams is still the best point guard in the New York market, and he's still not going to get 10 percent of the attention that his new rival will. This is the life of a loser in the NBA: it's one of instant anonymity.