Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deron Williams return has Avery Johnson, Nets upbeat - Fort Worth Star Telegram

At no point leading up to this summer's crucial free agency period was Brooklyn coach Avery Johnson comfortable enough to believe that point guard Deron Williams was a lock to re-sign with the Nets.

Williams grew up in the Dallas suburb of The Colony and narrowed his free agent choices to the Dallas Mavericks and the Nets. Eventually, Williams signed a five-year, $98 million contract with the Nets after seriously considering returning home to play for the Mavericks.Johnson, who spoke Tuesday at the Fort Worth Dunbar High School assembly, said he and Nets general manager Billy King were never overconfident about Williams' desire to remain a part of the Nets."We felt we were going to be able to re-sign Deron," Johnson said. "We felt it was like 80-90 percent, but it was the 10 percent that you were worried about."That was the whole key. But I'm glad that's all behind us now and we can move forward and we can have a team that we're hoping is going to be pretty competitive when we get it on the floor."In addition to Williams, the Nets re-signed three of their own top free agents -- Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries. They also traded for All-Star guard Joe Johnson.The slew of moves should help the Nets improve on the 24-58 and 22-44 records they compiled during Johnson's first two seasons."We're not there yet, we're not a championship team," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but at the same time we have a much better talent pool than we've had in the last two years."Whether that talent upgrade is enough to get the Nets into the Eastern Conference championship race alongside the world-champion Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics remains to be seen."We're ready to just get in training camp," Johnson said. "But I will say we're much more versatile than we've ever been, we have more experience."Right now we look good on paper. Now we've got to try to take it from looking good on paper and getting in and apply the work to go with it."Known as a fierce competitor on and off the court, Johnson took over the Mavericks' coaching reins from Don Nelson during the last 18 games of the 2004-05 season and coached them to a 16-2 record and a second-round berth in the playoffs. The next year Johnson led the Mavericks to a 60-22 record and their first appearance in the NBA Finals.That was followed by a club-best 67-15 record and a surprising first-round exit, then a 51-31 record and another first-round exit.Through it all, it was perennial Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki who credited Johnson with changing the Mavericks' culture from an offensive-minded squad into a team with a defensive presence. That defensive culture eventually led the Mavericks to capture the 2011 NBA title under coach Rick Carlisle."I think they won the championship because of Rick Carlisle," Johnson said. "Fortunately for me I've kept a good relationship with Dirk and Jet [Jason Terry] and those guys, but I had nothing to do with it."Dirk is a superstar. Don Nelson, who I'm going to watch get inducted to the Hall of Fame, had a lot to do with Dirk. I was just kind of one of the limbs on the tree."As far as retaining the services of Williams, Johnson wanted everyone to know he didn't steal the point guard away from the Mavericks."I didn't take anybody," Johnson said. "He was with us first. "We just re-signed our own guy.''Dwain Price, 817-390-7760Twitter: @DwainPrice

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