It was a glimmer of optimism during what was about to become the single worst loss in the short history of the Brooklyn Nets franchise. As the New York Knicks began pouring in an assault of wide open 3-pointers and uncontested lay-ins, Brooklyn general manager Billy King announced to TNT reporter Rachel Nichols that Deron Williams would be returning to the Nets in their next home game on Tuesday against the division leading (LOL) Boston Celtics. The timing of it all was hilariously contrived. Was this damage control from the general manager of a franchise in jeopardy of heading into the dark ages yet again? Whatever King’s motivation may have been, there’s no denying that the Nets need a life raft of some sort to try salvage what is becoming a $180 million dollar season from hell. But can Brooklyn’s $100 million dollar point guard bring this team back from the dead?
It has been a bumpy ride for Deron Williams since the Nets acquired him at the 2011 trade deadline after failing to swing a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Williams admittedly was shocked by the deal and had reservations about joining a team that was headed for the lottery. He spent an injury-riddled season and a half toiling away in Newark on a team that struggled to stay even close to relevant and many fans felt the team was placating to a star who wouldn’t stick around anyway when Billy King traded a surefire lottery pick for a declining Gerald Wallace in a half-hearted attempt to make an improbable playoff run. That pick ended up being Damian Lillard, a guy who on a rookie deal has more trade value on his own than Deron Williams does right now.
Williams stuck around and opened up the Barclays Center, but his play in the first half of last season led to many fans wondering if he was out of shape, overpaid or just plain overrated. The Brooklyn faithful that turned on him completed a 180 overnight, however, just as Deron did in the second half of last season. Starting in January, Williams produced at an All-NBA level, averaging 20.6 points, 7.9 assists, shooting 46 percent from the floor, 42 percent from 3 and 88 percent from the line. Deron’s play in the second half of last season (despite being hampered with the offensively challenged Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans as starting forwards) seemed to indicate a big season was on the horizon for 2013-14. Thus far it hasn’t worked out that way. An ankle injury has forced Williams to miss all but nine games so far this season (including the last eight) and he’s been pedestrian at best in the few games he’s actually participated in, averaging an incredibly ordinary 9.3 points and 6.0 assists per game when healthy (his PER of 13.10 is actually below the league average).
It isn’t all Deron’s fault Brooklyn has been among the NBA cellar dwellers so far this season. Kevin Garnett is playing like a glorified corpse, Jason Kidd looks like a guy who’s never coached a day in his life, several other Nets have been injured (including Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko) and the team lacks an identity on both ends. One horrifying statistic? The Brooklyn Nets have allowed opposing teams to shoot better than 44 percent from 3, bad enough to be on pace to set an all-time record. But teams with legitimate franchise players do not get blown on a regular basis like this Nets team has this year. Already pegged with the “injury-plagued” stigma, Deron needs to get on the floor and make this team better in order to salvage what is becoming a rapidly deteriorating reputation.
Deron’s return represents a golden opportunity to prove his worth. The Nets are in about as dark a place as a franchise with championship aspirations can be, and Williams represents hope. Again, he can’t fix every problem this roster has. But if he can return and begin playing at an elite level immediately, his presence should be enough for the Nets to mask many of their deficiencies and actually start winning some games. The East is weak and a top-four seed is waiting for any team in the Atlantic Division who is willing to jump up and grab it. Talent-wise, the Nets are more than capable of turning this season around, but it all starts with Deron Williams. He needs to be the catalyst.
If he can’t? It might be time for a new five year plan.