On New Year's Eve, the Nets lost their first game under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, a 104–73 pasting at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. It washed away all of the semi-good feeling of the Nets' first two games under Carlesimo, home wins over Charlotte and Cleveland, two of the worst teams in the NBA. In that loss to the Spurs — which featured the Nets being outscored 30–5 in the third quarter — this was Deron Williams's line:
- 35 plus-minus
Yeah, so that's pretty horrible, for anybody, never mind your superstar franchise player. Williams's struggles this year have been the central story line of the Nets' season, ranging from their average record to the firing of coach Avery Johnson. Several reasons have been given for Williams's rough season so far, from nagging injuries to a lack of confidence to Johnson's system being screwed up, or something. There's a new one now: Williams is worn out from a long off-season. Quoth the Williams:
“I didn’t take any time off. After last season, I never stopped working out. After the Olympics, the day I got back I worked out the next morning,” Williams said. “I thought it was the best thing to do, and now looking back, it probably would have been smarter to take some time off and get a little bit of rest, especially on my legs, and my ankles in general. I took a lot of pounding over the last year because even though we had a shortened season, I was over in Istanbul, so I haven’t had a break since before then. I felt like I could handle it, and at the time I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to get out of shape. I wanted to just keep going.”
On one hand, we do have a certain amount of sympathy for Williams. He has been pushing it hard for a long time now. On the other hand, well, everything else. He signed the big contract to stay here, he complained about the system not working for him, he was the center of every move the Nets made, simply just to keep him here. He's the twelfth-highest-paid player in the NBA, but he's twentieth in Player Efficiency Rating ... among point guards. Tired or not, Williams isn't just not playing like a superstar; he's barely playing like a starter.
Williams is too skilled, too driven a ballplayer to play like this forever; this isn't Eddy Curry. But it's handcuffing everything the Nets are trying to do. (After they likely lose at Oklahoma City tonight, they'll be at .500 again.) And yet, even though Williams has developed that coach-killing reputation, he just doesn't take the heat around the city and the tabloids that he would if he played for the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony still gets more gruff than Williams, and he scored 45 points last night. Right now, Williams isn't considered a monumental bust. But that may have less to do with his play and more to do with the fact that the Nets aren't where they want to be ... ironically, in large part because of Williams's play. The Nets aren't quite woven into the fabric of the city enough yet for everyone to hate their overpaid superstars. This is a Pyrrhic victory, to say the least.