The All-Star face of Brooklyn's first professional sports franchise since the Dodgers left town after the 1957 season, Williams wasn't only leading his teammates, he was leading a community. If that weight wasn't heavy enough, the ink was still drying on his five-year, $98 million contract.
When Williams stumbled out of the gate—16.3 points on 39.9 percent shooting over his first 30 games—it seemed as if the spotlight was burning a little too bright. His leadership was called into question as he feuded with former coach Avery Johnson, the same way he had with Utah Jazz coaching icon Jerry Sloan, who abruptly resigned midway through the 2010-11 season after a heated exchange with Williams.
But there was an underlying problem that many were failing to recognize. Williams was dealing with inflammation in his ankles, painful to the point that he underwent three rounds of cortisone shots and platelet-rich plasma therapy.
The difference between Williams on a bad wheel and Williams at 100 percent was staggering last season. He had his third round of cortisone shots, which he told the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy "finally hit the right spot" at the All-Star break.
The numbers show the fact that he was dead on with his assessment of the treatment.
In the 50 games before the break, Williams averaged 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 7.6 assists. In the 28 games after, he bumped those figures to 22.9, 48.1 and 8.0, respectively.
He silenced his critics and, at times, impressed even himself.
Clearly, he's at his ankle-breaking best when his own ankles aren't broken.
With that in mind, Brooklyn's action-packed offseason has taken a worrisome turn for the worst. Bondy reports that Williams is in a walking boot after having suffered a right ankle sprain and a bone bruise during a workout in Utah.
While the Nets told Bondy Williams will be ready for the start of training camp on Oct. 1, this is not the way to start a make-or-break season for both the franchise and its star point guard.
Most NBA teams will say that they're trying to win now, but Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov put his money where his mouth is this summer. More than $87 million of it in luxury taxes alone, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
Talent has never been an issue for the three-time All-Star. He still has some of the best handles in the business and his shooting shines from anywhere on the floor (career .453/.356/.819 slash line).
But he has clashed with coaches—a team-killing move for any point guard—and has led his team past the second round of the playoffs just once in his eight-year career. This last May, he watched his 49-win team suffer a crushing seven-game defeat in its opening-round series against an injury-plagued Chicago Bulls team.
A second-round exit, or anything less than that, is a wasted season for the bank-busting Nets. Anything short of a championship will not satisfy Prokhorov.
But Williams' reputation has even more at stake.
Just a few seasons ago, he was challenging Chris Paul's throne as the best point guard in the league. But he hasn't found a spot on any All-NBA team roster since 2009-10.
The 2013-14 campaign should be the easiest of his career. He's never had this much talent around him, this many players who can draw extra defensive attention or score points in bunches when help doesn't arrive.
But he's never had this much pressure to deliver, either.
He'll need to balance Garnett's fire and Joe Johnson's Southern cool. He'll have to find touches for both, along with Pierce, Jason Terry and Brooklyn's only real building block for the future, Brook Lopez.
And somewhere along that high-wire act, he'll have to remind himself of his own talent.
The entire basketball world could use a refresher on Williams' elite-level skill. And it, like Prokhorov, needs to see that now.
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