The 29-year-old is fighting nightly battles with his ankles and losing the war.
And Brooklyn is left doing what it does best—paying the biggest price.
Nothing Is Working
For once, that's not a reference to the season gone horribly wrong. In fact, the team's playing some of its best basketball of the year.
But there is no time to celebrate. Not with Williams back on the shelf thanks to a set of bad wheels that just cannot seem to get right:
His ankles haven't just limited his production. They've stripped him from the ranks of the NBA elite and sometimes even have him looking like a fringe starter.
Maybe it's something in the Brooklyn water. Since joining the Nets at the 2010-11 trade deadline, he simply hasn't looked like the same player that used to challenge for Chris Paul's spot atop the NBA's point guard rankings.
|D-Will's Dramatic Decline|
What makes this so frustrating for both Williams and the Nets, is that the superstar ability is still very much present. Even with his ankles reducing him to his smallest workload since his rookie season (30.2 minutes per game), he's still shooting as efficiently as he did during his best seasons with the Utah Jazz.
But there's something different about his production. He used to be good in both the quantity and quality departments; now it seems like he has to choose between one or the other.
Every decision he makes seems to be dependent on what his body will allow:
He spent the first half of last season entirely at the mercy of his ankles. His stat line paid the price. In 50 games before the All-Star break, he managed just 16.7 points on .413/.347 shooting.
He spent All-Star weekend in all-out ankle repair mode. A round of cortisone shots in each one and some platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment seemed to do the trick. In the final 28 games of the season, he poured in 22.9 points a night on .481/.420 shooting.
But cortisone shots are only meant for short-term relief. That's become all too apparent as his ankle problems have carried over into this season.
A sprain and bone bruise in his right ankle cost him Brooklyn's training camp and nearly all of its preseason. Multiple sprains to his left ankle have cost him 12 games already and more absences are on the way.
According to a team release on Nets.com, Williams had yet another round of platelet-rich plasma and cortisone injections in both of his ankles on Monday. The three-time All-Star is back in a walking boot pending re-evaluation later in the week.
If there's a long-term answer to this problem, neither Williams nor the Nets have found it yet. That's obviously a major concern for both parties going forward.
From Bad To Worse
Seemingly everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for the Nets this season.
Yet, even this nine-figure broken dream doesn't seem as depressing as what awaits this franchise down the road. The few building blocks that it has appear to be cracking at their foundations:
The Nets went to extreme measures to make this a championship-or-bust season. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn't sign off on the most expensive roster in league history to see what we're all currently seeing: this wildly short-sighted approach for a title turning into a pipe dream.
There is nothing to suggest that a championship window will miraculously open. Not with Brooklyn sitting at No. 28 in ranked defense (105.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) and All-Star big man Brook Lopez done for the season with a broken foot.
No matter how scary the present is, though, the future looks even worse.
"They are probably in the worst situation of any team in the NBA right now," former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said during an appearance on The Amani & Eytan Show on NBC Sports Radio (via Kurt Helin of NBC Sports).
The Nets will be paying draft debts through 2018. They already have over $80 million in salary commitments for 2014-15 and as much as $64 million for the following season, via ShamsSports.com. It's debatable if the front office even opened a championship window with its offseason activity, but if it had, that window has since been sealed shut.
Unlike a lot of his teammates, D-Will's assignment came with more than a one-year grading scale. He has at least two more seasons in Brooklyn—although his ankles say there's no way he'll opt out of the $22.3 million he'll be owed in 2016-17.
He shares the win-now doctrine with his teammates, but also faces the added task of helping this team avoid a rebuild. Lopez sits as the franchise's centerpiece for the future, but D-Will is supposed to be the bridge for the championship runs expected to happen now and later.
Runs that he doesn't have the teammates to make, let alone the ankles to support.
Search for a Silver Lining
I'm not sure there is such a thing for the league's black-and-white franchise.
Gray areas get lost somewhere in the luxury tax territory. They're completely erased by an unprecedented $80-million-plus luxury tax bill.
Anything short of a championship is a disappointment.
That being said, there's still a sliver of hope for Williams. When his ankles have cooperated, he's looked nothing short of dominant. He preceded this latest injury with a two-game stretch that saw him average 25.0 points on .630/.583/.900 shooting.
He'll need some careful monitoring and more stumbles are likely, if not inevitable. But even in part-time duty he'll out perform some of his full-time peers.
Unfortunately, that's not what a championship-or-bust team wants to hear, let alone a team committed to coughing up this kind of cash to a part-time player.
But, as the Nets have been forced to learn all season long, sometimes you have to appreciate the little things. Money carries no guarantees in this game.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.
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