The refurbishment of Deron Williams
The Brooklyn Nets announced Monday night that Deron Williams would miss the final two games of the first half, receiving treatment for his ailing ankles and getting him some needed rest.
The only question is: what took so long?
Back in training camp, Williams received a cortisone shot in his left ankle. Despite a slow start, and injuries to both ankles, along with the wrist that had been previously operated on, an elbow injury, and likely others, Williams did not ask out of games, and the Nets made no effort to protect him.
In fact, Williams saw his minutes per game increase in December, dip only slightly in January, and return to December levels in February.
What the Nets haven't seen, despite a change in coaches that followed Williams' public displeasure with Johnson's offense, is any resemblence between the Williams of today and the player the Nets acquired in February 2011.
Williams has a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.9, still good, but not the franchise anchor he was expected to be. That is also his lowest season P.E.R. since his second season in the league, back in 2006-07. His field goal shooting and three-point accuracy is also well below career norms, and he is driving to the basket far less frequently than he did in his best seasons.
But Williams is just 28; it is far from impossible that he can simply get healthy, and return to form.
And this is more than just a potential short-term boost in play for the Nets; the future of the franchise essentially depends on it.
With Brook Lopez playing as well as he has, the Nets have managed to stay at the periphery of Eastern Conference contention. But really, the Nets are only making that final leap with a true star to go along with Lopez.
The salaries commanded by Lopez, Williams and Joe Johnson mean that adding another star will require the Nets to either overpay for someone like Josh Smith, or have someone from within develop.
Back when the Nets acquired Williams, they rightly believed they were adding perhaps the best point guard in the league. He has been well short of that since joining the team. But he is by far their best chance to have anything close to the best point guard in the reasonable future, and the Nets have him under contract for another 4.5 years.
Getting Williams healthy, then, is a better trade deadline accquisition than any they could manage, and they'll be getting him without any additional outlay of talent or salary. While he recovers, they have C.J. Watson, a capable backup, and the promising TyShawn Taylor, a rookie who arguably made the difference in Monday night's 89-84 win over the Indiana Pacers.
General manager Billy King insisted Williams will return right after the All Star break this weekend, but exactly why the Nets wouldn't rest Williams until he is best capable of playing at an elite level again, leaving him fresher for the playoffs, and maximizing the team's chances of making a run, is hard to fathom.
"He's played a lot of basketball since the summer," King said Monday by way of explaining how this happened. "I think it's something manageable." He'd made similar comments about Williams' lack of rest back in December, around the time Avery Johnson was fired. Somehow, subsequently resting Williams never entered the equation.
Now, finally, the Nets are taking some basic steps to manage it. But their timetable with Williams simply can't be based around tomorrow's game. Without the vision to look ahead to the playoffs, or what Williams can give this team over the long term, they aren't really managing the health of their star player at all.