HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – There is nothing to indicate that Deron Williams had direct input on Avery Johnson‘s dismissal on Thursday. In their press conferences on Thursday afternoon, both Johnson and Nets general manager Billy King said that the blame can’t be pinned on Williams. And King added that no players were consulted before the decision was made.
Considering his comments last week regarding Johnson’s offense though, the timing of all this only adds to Williams’ coach-killing reputation. First, Jerry Sloan resigns shortly after an argument with Williams in Utah, and now Johnson is fired shortly after Williams pines for Sloan’s offense.
But let’s just put Williams’ relationship with his coach(es) aside for now, and focus on what he has done on the floor.
The numbers, both simple and advanced, tell the story. Williams has shot less than 40 percent from the field and less than 30 percent from 3-point range this season. Defensively, the Nets have been much worse with Williams on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.
Nets efficiency with Williams on and off the floor
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
When you’re the star of the team, they can’t be better without you. But that’s been the story with Williams and the Nets this season. So while the Nets hope to improve in the coaching department, they also have to wonder about the $99 million investment they made in their point guard.
Williams has been saddled with various injuries throughout his time with the Nets, starting with a right wrist problem that has clearly affected his ability to make shots. But beyond his shooting numbers, there has been a lack of leadership, both in New Jersey and in Brooklyn.
Over the last few weeks, despite all the talent on their roster, the Nets have failed to respond to adversity. And that’s on Williams as much as it is on Johnson. True stars should be able to put their teams on their backs when times get tough. But Williams has really had just one star performance this season, those 14 brilliant dimes he dished out in the Nets’ only win over the Knicks.
The Nets have players with more experience than Williams, and he’s not the only guy on the roster getting paid like a superstar. But this roster was built around him. Keeping him in a Nets uniform was the reason King traded for both Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson. He’s the two-time Olympian and he’s supposed to be the franchise player.
Being a franchise player is about more than just points, assists and defense. It’s about intangibles, both on the floor and in the locker room. It’s also about the words that come out of your mouth, both off the record and on it.
Publicly expressing doubt about what the coach is doing is a no-no, especially when you’re not living up to your end of the bargain with your play on the floor. No matter what his intentions were, Williams’ comments last week just made it harder for Johnson to do his job. The coach tried to placate his star by incorporating some of Sloan’s offense into the Nets’ system, and Williams tried to soften his quotes later on, but there was no erasing what was originally said.
Though Johnson always had Williams’ support prior to this season, there were signs that Williams wasn’t a great locker room leader when the Nets went 22-44 in their final season in New Jersey. Still, the team had no choice to re-sign their point guard and try to build a contender around him, because the alternative would have been uglier than anything that is going on right now.
With Johnson gone, the Nets have to find a new coach. More important, they have to hold Williams accountable for both his play and his leadership.
When Johnson was asked about the next potential coach for the Nets, he had a very pointed response.
“I just know when the coach comes in, he’s going to have to be able to do it his way,” Johnson said. “Hold everybody accountable, coach true to his style. That’s the way it’s going to have to be.”
Johnson, we know, comes from the School of Pop, where Tim Duncan is treated the same as the 15th guy on the roster. Why Johnson wasn’t able to do the same in Brooklyn isn’t clear, but what is clear is that the Nets’ need their biggest star to step up and take responsibility for leading them out of the hole they’re in.
While the Nets have minimal salary flexibility going forward, they don’t lack talent. And while they need to evaluate the roster, rotation, offense and defense, what they need most is a happy, motivated and productive point guard who can make the most of that talent currently in uniform.
Williams certainly has the ability to turn things around, both individually and for his team. But there’s no other way to put it than to say that he’s been a disappointment since arriving from Utah 22 months ago. And whether or not there’s blood on his hands in the wake of Johnson’s dismissal, there are certainly stains on his reputation as a franchise player.