For a while it looked like the inaugural Brooklyn Nets season would be as charmed as owner Mikhail Prokhorov and GM Billy King has hoped when hundreds of millions of dollars were committed over the summer to the roster that would first play in the new Barclays Center.
The Nets were 11-4, had an emotional win over their new cross-town rival New York Knicks under their belts and looked poised to join the group of elite teams at the top of the Eastern Conference.
All along, star point guard Deron Williams couldn't quite get into a groove, but it didn't much matter with the Nets winning at such an impressive clip. Then center Brook Lopez injured his foot and was forced to the bench for seven games. Brooklyn went 2-5 in that stretch and head coach Avery Johnson's rotations, which had been solid, were suddenly all out of whack trying to make up for the loss of Lopez.
With Lopez back in the fold the Nets are still struggling offensively, even with the center averaging 17 points over the last two games, and those struggles were highlighted even more when Williams praised the offense he got to run in high school, college and in the NBA with the Utah Jazz.
"I grew up in high school, my coach wasn’t one of those guys who would just throw out the ball and let us play," Williams told reporters. "We were a system team. We had a staple of plays that we relied on. We were good at execution. In college (at Illinois), we ran the motion offense. A lot of cutting, a lot passing, a lot of screening, a lot of extra passes. I’m used to just movement. So I’m still trying to adjust. It’s been an adjustment for me."
Williams and Johnson both down played the comments as being more than a passing thought.
"There's nothing to it," Williams explained Tuesday . "[The media] asked me about Utah. I'm not going to bad mouth Utah. I had a great time in Utah. I loved he offense. I've said we've had struggles on offense here, which I've said all year."
"No, not at all," Johnson, added. "We talk about it. We have great communication. So the comments aren't surprising. And really and truly, guys, I'm 47 now turning 48. I don't take anything personal. I communicate with all my players, constant communication with Deron, [Jerry Stack[house] and Joe [Johnson]."
The head coach thinks it's as simple as waiting for open shots to fall, but another loss to the Knicks at MSG Wednesday night followed by losing at home to the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics could turn the tide in Brooklyn very quickly.
Off the cuff remarks will quickly become a private meeting with the general manager, all while an unhappy Russian starts to wonder what his hundreds of millions of dollars are paying for. Suddenly the heat gets turned up on a lame-duck head coach.
No one has forgotten how things ended with Williams and Utah, with the point guard being blamed (rightfully or not) for an all-time great coach in Jerry Sloan abruptly retiring. For all the improvements Johnson has made as a head coach, he's not -- and never will be -- Sloan, so if Williams and the Nets continue to struggle, a coaching change will come sooner than later.
If it gets to that point, then all of the hearts and flowers that have floated around the Brooklyn Nets since the doors opened on the Barclays Center would fly out the window and instead be focused on their disgruntled $98 million man.
Deron Williams, Avery Johnson and the Brooklyn Nets' first real basketball test - SBNation.com
Williams, Johnson Play Down Rift over Nets Offense - NYTimes.com