Commentary

Can Deron Williams come home?

All-Star free agent ponders destination, but hometown's burdens rival comforts

Updated: June 27, 2012, 1:53 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

What is it like for a pro athlete to play for his hometown team?

Derrick Rose, who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, feels the love. LeBron James did, too, until he spurned the home team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to take his talents to South Beach. Clyde Drexler won a title after being traded home to Houston. Chauncey Billups has balanced the jubilation of twice being traded home to Denver with the misfortune of being traded away when he wanted to stay.

[+] EnlargeDeron Williams
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty ImagesDeron Williams spent his first two NBA offseasons in Dallas-Fort Worth, which proved to be a hassle when it came to his privacy.
Some athletes have no interest in finding out what it's like to play at home. Entering his 2010 free agency, native Chris Bosh made clear his intentions not to pursue a path home to the Dallas Mavericks.

Few athletes -- and even fewer superstars -- ever get the chance to go home. Fewer still get to do so by their own volition.

Orange County native and former Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson took advantage of his free agency to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Angels last winter and now lives with his brother.

NBA All-Star point guard Deron Williams is the latest high-profile athlete granted with this rarest of opportunities to choose to come home smack in the prime of his career. The Mavs, desperately wanting a young superstar to propel the franchise during and beyond Dirk Nowitzki's twilight, are waiting with open arms and an open wallet. They are also flush with cash after the designed dismantling of the 2011 title team.

The only question is if Williams, the property of the Brooklyn-bound Nets for at least one more week, will come home. As of today, even his mother, Denise Smith, says she doesn't know the answer. Nor does she believe her son does.

"No, no I don't," Smith said during a phone conversation from her home in the Dallas suburb of The Colony. "I thought he was going one way and another time thought he was going another way."

She does, however, expect a quick decision come July 1, when teams begin talking to players and agents at the stroke of midnight (11 p.m. CT on June 30). Williams has shown he's not into the flabbergasting flip-flopping of Dwight Howard, whose future has long been linked with Williams'. On Twitter, Williams has challenged reports in which sources have placed restrictions or demands, such as the ability to acquire Howard, on his signing with a particular team.

"There's a lot of stuff out there that's untrue and people get pissed off at Deron because he needs to watch what he says," Smith said. "Well, it's not coming from Deron. It's coming from 'unnamed sources' or 'sources close to.'

"I think he and his agent have gone over all of the possibilities and I think it [his decision] will be made pretty fast," she said. "I think he wants it out of the way, just because I know I'm asked every day, so I know he's asked a million times. I'm asked, his brother's asked; my best friend, they've asked her."

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Mavs have the cash to pair Deron Williams with Dirk Nowitzki, but Brooklyn has the inside edge on retaining the All-Star guard.
Smith said she doesn't believe her son harbors a warm-and-fuzzy fascination about playing for his hometown team. The best overall situation for his career and family, she suggested, will win out in the end.

Still, the familial tug to come home can be powerful. Williams and his wife, Amy, who first met in the second grade, have four children -- the elder two are girls ages 9 and 6; the younger two are boys, 3 and 1.

Williams' brother, Kendall Jones, just finished his senior year at The Colony High School. Williams' aunt and uncle and their two children live about 45 minutes away in Forney. Amy's parents live in close proximity to The Colony, in Carrollton, as does Amy's brother with his wife and daughter.

A return home could form quite a happy clan, yet Smith said she is not planting any such seeds in her son's head.

"They don't get it from me," she said. "I'd love to have him here, but I don't bug them about it."

And there is also that other side to playing at home, the downside of inevitable demands and distractions of family and friends -- and friends you never knew you had -- that made Bosh unequivocally eliminate Dallas from consideration.

Williams is no stranger to it. At first, the family spent the offseason in Carrollton. But after just two summers, Deron and Amy decided that it was more hassle than homey. They spent the next two offseasons in Utah and the two after that in San Diego.

"He did have a house in Carrollton for the first two offseasons and that was a big issue," Smith said. "People would just show up, and they felt like they never had any privacy."

Seven seasons into his career and with his family established and grounded in the NBA way of life, would it now be easier to handle such hometown issues?

"They would definitely have to live where it's gated," Smith said with a chuckle.

The Williamses, Smith said, have enjoyed living in Manhattan. The Nets' move to Brooklyn and into a billion-dollar arena certainly has its allure. Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers more hope than past regimes, although questionable maneuverings by the Nets' front office certainly can be concerning for a player who turns 28 on Tuesday. Williams has lost 42 of the 67 games he's played since the Utah Jazz abruptly traded him to Avery Johnson's Nets.

Brooklyn can offer Williams one more year and some $28 million more than the Mavs or any other team in free agency. And if successful in the shadow of Madison Square Garden, whose NBA tenant remains as inept as ever over the past decade, the fame and fortune that will accompany it will be unrivaled anywhere else.

Because of the maximum salary he will command, Williams' options in free agency are limited. The Los Angeles Lakers, eager to aid an aging Kobe Bryant as much as the Mavs are hopeful to help Dirk, lack the cap space to sign Williams and can acquire him only through a sign-and-trade.

Others with cap space or the potential to create enough to sign Williams include the Portland Trail Blazers, where fellow North Texan LaMarcus Aldridge is inked for three more seasons; the Indiana Pacers, with Larry Bird at the helm and an intriguing roster that challenged the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs; and the Houston Rockets, headed by creative and aggressive general manager Daryl Morey.

The Mavs, with player-friendly owner Mark Cuban and a dozen-year track record of success, are hopeful that for Williams, his heart is where home is.