11:30 am Feb. 19, 2013
When the Nets' star point guard Deron Williams played injured earlier this season, his productivity suffered, dropping to levels he hadn't seen since his early days in the league.
The Nets are only an elite team with Williams healthy and playing at the level he routinely reached prior to the Nets trading a ton in treasure to the Utah Jazz for him in February 2011. Yet they, and Williams, lurched forward, ignoring the injury problems even as they seemed to get worse.
Finally, last week, Williams was given injections in both of his ailing ankles, which were perhaps the biggest reason he'd gone from an explosive finisher to a point guard who couldn't dunk. He rested for a pair of games, then during the all-star break. It seemed the Nets were, at last, handling their star responsibly, with a greater focus on getting him healthy in May than in winning every single game in February.
Then Williams said this yesterday, after acknowledging he is still in pain: "I can’t dunk. I can’t jump. Even if I tried, off one leg I can’t dunk. I can dunk off two, but if I just tried to dunk off my left leg, I can’t dunk."
So why is he playing again?
"They said a week was sufficient, so I trust the doctors," said Williams, who plans to play Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. "I definitely need more rest than a week for it to get back to normal, but I don’t have time right now."
Except: he does.
During the two games Williams missed, the Nets were ... 2-0. They have a perfectly capable backup point guard in C.J. Watson, who scored 26 points in a victory over the Denver Nuggets. And in the other game without Williams, TyShawn Taylor, Watson's backup, scored 12 points in 34 minutes as the Nets beat the Indiana Pacers, one of their Eastern Conference playoff rivals, in Indiana.
Williams is the hero limping toward the onrushing train to save the damsel in distress, except she isn't anywhere near the tracks.
The Nets are within a few games of virtually every Eastern Conference playoff team, 2.5 games out of the second seed, and just four games ahead of the eight seed, held by the Bucks team they will play tonight.
It's not clear that the Nets are better off even in the short term with an injured Williams gutting through the pain. And there isn't the slightest doubt that a rundown Williams isn't going to be enough to help the Nets surprise in a winnable Eastern Conference playoff battle come springtime.
That Williams is willing to play through the pain is a good thing. Elite athletes almost always want to compete, no matter the long-term consequences. It is up to organizations to take the longer view.
The Nets have 4.5 seasons left to pay Deron Williams max contract money. The only way that makes any sense is by getting the Williams performance he gave the Utah Jazz.
Letting Williams mess himself up by rushing back now isn't the way to do it.