The Brooklyn Nets failed to get their money’s worth from the two highest-paid players on the roster after a disappointing first-round playoff exit.
When the Nets absorbed the rest of Joe Johnson’s four-year, $90 million contract and signed Deron Williams to a five-year deal worth $98 million, they expected to at least win a first-round playoff series. Instead, Brooklyn was shown the door in Round 1 by an undermanned Chicago Bulls squad that exemplified toughness, physicality, grit and determination.
The Nets displayed none of these qualities in their seven-game series with the Bulls.
The Bulls played without their biggest stars. The Nets stars played poorly. The Bulls showed a ton of heart, while the Nets showed none.
With a big payroll came big expectations. The Nets failed to live up to those expectations this season and will spend the rest of the offseason knowing they, not the Bulls, should have been the team that got destroyed by the Miami Heat in Round 2.
There’s no denying Deron Williams played at an All-Star level throughout the second half of the regular season. Following the All-Star break, the Nets’ point guard averaged 22.9 points on 48.1 percent shooting.
He was the Nets’ best player during that stretch and the biggest reason the team went 35-19 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
But where was that version of D-Will during the first half of the season?
Through the first 50 games, Williams averaged just 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting while battling ankle and wrist injuries.
Brooklyn needs its superstar floor general to be dominant for the entire season.
Williams posted impressive numbers in the playoffs, averaging 20.6 points on 42.5 percent shooting. But he did most of his damage against 5’9” Nate Robinson, and struggled against high-level defenders Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Williams shot 13-of-39 when guarded by Hinrich through the first four games of the series.
In Game 5, D-Will scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Robinson, then shot 0-of-3 after Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to defend him with Jimmy Butler. When Butler guarded Williams in the first half of Game 6, he held him to 0-of-2 shooting and three assists.
Some blame must also be placed on D-Will for what transpired in the final three minutes and 19 seconds of Game 4, when the Nets blew a 14-point lead. He was on the floor during that entire stretch and didn’t do enough to lead his team to a crucial win. Williams shot 2-of-11 between the fourth quarter and three overtimes in the demoralizing 142-134 defeat.
Brooklyn’s superstar was too passive in the fourth quarter during the playoffs.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, he took half as many fourth-quarter shots as Joe Johnson and six fewer than Brook Lopez through the first six games of the series. Through six games he shot 3-of-12 in the fourth quarter.
Williams wasn't the only highly paid star that struggled in Brooklyn this season. Like Williams, Joe Johnson was forced to play through injury in 2012-13.
Brooklyn’s $90 million shooting guard was hobbled by plantar fasciitis in his left foot for the majority of the season. He didn’t make any excuses, but his production suffered.
During the regular season, Johnson’s per-game averages for points, assists, rebounds and field-goal percentage were all below his career averages. In fact, they were the lowest per-game averages he’d posted since the 2002-03 season.
Statistically, Johnson’s first year in Brooklyn was certainly disappointing. But the 31-year-old continued to prove why he is widely considered one of the best clutch performers in the league.
During the regular season, he hit three game-winning shots, including two buzzer-beaters. In the playoffs, Johnson hit two floaters in the final 11.8 seconds of the first overtime of Game 4, including a game-tying buzzer-beater to force a second OT.
Johnson’s frustrating season culminated with a stink bomb of a performance in Game 7.
The fourth-highest paid player in the league shot 2-of-14 from the field and went 0-of-5 in the fourth quarter of the 99-93 season-ending loss at the Barclays Center.
Plantar fasciitis can account for some of Johnson’s woes, but Bulls’ center Joakim Noah posted a monster stat line of 24 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and six blocks playing through the same injury.
Like Johnson, Nets center Brook Lopez picked a bad time to have one of his worst games of the season.
Lopez, whom the Nets signed to a four-year, $60-million extension last summer, accounted for 21 points and nine rebounds in Game 7 but was horrendous on the defensive end. He allowed a hobbled Joakim Noah to convert tip-ins, grab loose balls, create second-chance opportunities for teammates and thoroughly dominate the paint.
Lopez had a look of sheer bewilderment on his face during the waning moments of the loss, and for good reason.
Brooklyn’s big man had a breakout season, making his first All-Star appearance while averaging 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He averaged 22.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the playoffs.
Lopez was Brooklyn’s most consistent player in 2012-13, and he played up to his contract. But the same can’t be said for teammates Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Williams and Johnson were paid a combined $188 million to lead the Nets on a deep playoff run, and ultimately they failed to deliver.
Brooklyn needs its starting backcourt to get healthy and play with more consistency for the franchise to have realistic championship aspirations in 2013-14.
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