HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Seems a wee bit early into a five-year, $98 million contract for Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams to clip current coach Avery Johnson and pine for the one he provoked into sudden retirement.
With the Utah Jazz marching into Brooklyn on Tuesday night, Williams used Monday to delve a little deeper into his shooting slump with the New York media and fired a rare shot this season that hit its intended target.
Williams said he hasn’t been the same point guard since he left Utah, left Jerry Sloan and the offensive system Sloan ran like clockwork for 25 seasons and 54 games, the last 22 seasons and 54 games with the Jazz.
With a field-goal percentage holding under 40, and a 3-point percentage chilling in the 20s, Williams said he misses the motion offense, the cutting, the screening, the passing, the type of schemes he’s run since high school. He said he’s still adjusting to Johnson’s more isolation-based approach.
Surely his good buddy and new cross-town rival, Jason Kidd, told him as much during those summer golf outings in The Hamptons. After all, Kidd, in his short time with Johnson in Dallas, never invited the Little General to his birthday dinner.
So Williams tossed newly revealed system struggles on the pile of multiple bodily pains and strains, and a mental block he now says he’s up against as probable culprits for his poor shooting percentages.
Johnson said Monday that he has “supreme confidence” in Williams’ ability to snap out of it during a telephone interview with NBA.com conducted prior to Williams’ comments.
“First of all, everything starts in the mind. I told him he’s got to get it out of his mind, he’s not struggling. You’ve got to get that out of your mind,” Johnson said. “His shots are not wide left and wide right or short. Most of them are just going in the basket and kind of popping out a little bit. The main thing is his shots are right on target. He’s just got to work on his arc a little bit of getting it up and over. But for the most part his shot looks really, really good. He’s just had a couple of shots that’s popped in and out. It’ll come.”
Although the Nets have struggled of late, slipping to 13-10 after a 10-4 start, it’s not like they’ve hit an iceberg. They missed center Brook Lopez for seven games, going 2-5, and Gerald Wallace was out early. Still, Brooklyn has notched wins against the Knicks, the Clippers and Boston twice.
Through it all, Williams has struggled to make shots, including a couple late that could have affected outcomes. He’s shooting 38.8 percent from the floor and 33.9 percent on 3s in December with the Nets losing six of eight.
For the season, Williams is averaging 17.0 points (38.8 percent shooting and 29.9 percent on 3s) and 8.3 assists.
Johnson said Williams is still getting used to new personnel, and that he’s not concerned because time is still on Williams’ side.
“It’ll come and I think he’s still getting used to playing with Joe [Johnson] and finding the right spots when Joe gets double-teamed, because he used to be the guy to get double-teamed all the time and now it’s Joe,” Avery Johnson said. “So I just think he’s fine. I told him don’t over-think it, that’s why I haven’t called you into my office to have a big meeting because I got supreme confidence in you, and it’s 23 games, it’s not 46 games.
“If we’re at this point after 46 games or 64 games, then we can have a talk. But it’s kind of cycle of the season. He’s a really good shooter, he’s a terrific point guard and I just told him I’m not worried so he shouldn’t be worried about anything, so just play.”
Williams could have been playing for his hometown Dallas Mavericks and joined Dirk Nowitzki and likely Kidd, too (he almost certainly would have stayed in Dallas had Williams signed), and run 2011 championship coach Rick Carlisle’s “flow” offense.
He instead chose the more lucrative option and to lead the Nets’ transformation in Brooklyn and under Johnson, having played 77 games in his system over parts of two seasons. The Jazz traded Williams in late February 2011, not coincidentally, just two weeks after Sloan surprisingly re-signed having lost a war of wills with his All-Star point guard.
So it would seem a wee bit early into a five-year, $98 million contract, into this season of rebirth with excitable fans and a re-tooled roster shaped to Williams’ liking — or so he said when he re-signed — for Williams to decide to selectively reminisce.
“I was telling the guys just play free and have fun, and we don’t want anybody on our team to put the whole weight of the team on their shoulders,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re a team. We’re not one individual, we’re a team. Joe started off slow and I predicted he would come around in the middle of December. So he’s coming around.
“Deron is going to be fine. So I just think guys need to relax, don’t press, just have fun. This is a fun time in their lives.”