Sadly for D-Will, that is no longer the case. As B/R’s Joe Flynn wrote, “in the year 2013, nobody outside of Williams' immediate family would pick him over Paul.” CP3 has emerged as one of the NBA’s premier superstars, while the injury-plagued Williams can only wonder how good he truly could’ve been.
The Brooklyn Nets traded for Williams in February of 2011 with the hope that he’d become the face of the franchise as it transitioned from New Jersey to the Big Apple. A shaky health record, specifically in regard to his ankles, has prohibited Williams from reaching his full potential.
Once again hindered by reoccurring injuries, D-Will has been on the sidelines for over a quarter of the season. As of February 22, the 29-year-old guard has averaged about 13 points and seven assists a night.
While there’s a possibility that Williams—and the Nets—will be able to overcome an injury-plagued past, there is also a good chance that he’ll never reach the height of the NBA’s elite guards.
If the latter rings true, where does that leave Brooklyn?
The current situation
Surprisingly, the Nets have done just fine without Williams this year—in the month of January, Brooklyn went 4-1 without Williams, who then came off the bench for the final six games of the month (note: BKN went 4-2 in that span).
I just want to get healthy again, man. If I get healthy, I know what can happen. It’s been a frustrating two years for me injury-wise. It’s something I can’t really control. Hopefully I can figure it out this summer and then go from there.
The Nets, at best, have the power to make a run in the playoffs. But with Brook Lopez out for the season, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce noticeably declining from the last few years and Williams in and out of the lineup, the idea of a championship is a mere mirage.
Shaun Livingston has stepped in and given the Nets solid minutes at point guard, putting up over seven points and three assists a night. In his first year with the Nets, Livingston has resurrected a career forever altered by a gruesome injury, but he doesn’t have the ability to carry a team offensively.
Joe Johnson, the Nets’ lone All-Star, leads the team in two- and three-point field goals, total points and games played. Viewed as an afterthought when general manager Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov pulled off the blockbuster deal for Pierce and KG, Johnson has been Brooklyn’s best and most consistent player.
This season, the Nets can survive without Williams. Again, they aren’t going be hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy—but with the way the team has been playing, a first-round victory seems like a strong possibility.
Next season and beyond, however, doesn’t look so great.
Pierce, Garnett present a problem
Garnett and Pierce, after a dreadful start to the year, have turned it on—kind of. Both of the battle-tested vets are averaging career lows offensively, and KG’s rebounding numbers are as bad as they’ve been since his rookie year in 1996.
But since the New Year began, Garnett has raised his shooting percentage from 43.6 to 57.9, a difference of over 14 notches. By the same token, Pierce’s 13 points a night rank third on the team behind Johnson and Williams.
The bottom line? Once a pair of the league’s biggest stars, Garnett and Pierce have comfortably settled in as role players.
But most role players don’t combine for upward of $26 million in a season.
Pierce is in the final year of his contract, but KG will cost $12 million next year, hindering the Nets' ability to do a whole lot with this summer’s class of stud free agents.
When the team was assembled over the summer, the starting lineup of Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett-Lopez really looked like one of the best in the league.
But it was lucid that the Nets weren’t trying to build a contender—they were trying to construct an instant champion.
Not this year, and not anytime soon.
Fixing the future
It seemed like a solid idea over the summer, but building around a bunch of mid-30-year-olds, albeit well-accomplished players, was poor planning for the future. The Nets need to start bringing in some young blood.
Can D-Will's health hold up long term?
The Nets need to wheel and deal and make some moves that will bring back first- and second-round picks. Mirza Teletovic (28) and Mason Plumlee (23) have made great strides this season and are worth keeping around at such a bargained price—the two combined to make less than $5 million this year.
The 25-year-old Lopez, though he has the potential to become a strong center, is Brooklyn’s most attractive trade piece and could be dealt in exchange for picks and draft stock to a team like the Phoenix Suns.
Williams had the potential to become the league’s best point guard, but injuries have held him back and significantly affected his career. If he can’t return to the elite form he once held, the Nets are in for one of two things.
Losing or big-time changes.
All stats are accurate as of February 22 and courtesy of Basketball Reference.