Nets taking it slow with star point guard's injured ankle
By John Torenli
Sports Editor, Brooklyn Eagle
Like a kid who wakes up on Christmas morning, charges down the stairs to find bushels of presents under the tree, but is then told he'll have to wait another week or two to open them, Nets point guard Deron Williams is in a frustrating holding pattern.
After general manager Billy King spent the summer loading the Nets' exorbitantly priced roster with the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, Williams has been instructed that he can neither practice, scrimmage nor suit up to play with his new teammates as the NBA's preseason enters its final week.
Williams, nursing a sprained right ankle and bone bruise suffered during a pre-training camp workout, has been relegated to watching from the sidelines as All-Star center Brook Lopez, shooting guard Joe Johnson and the rest of his teammates, both old and new, prepare for the upcoming grind of the 82-game regular season.
"[I've watched] a lot of great practices and I want to be a part of them," insisted Williams, who claimed earlier this month that he was fit and ready to go when the Nets opened training camp at Duke University earlier this month, only to be shut down by the team's training staff and executive hierarchy.
“So at times I feel like I’m not part of this team right now because I’m not out there," added Williams, who will be a spectator again tonight when the Nets visit Boston for their penultimate preseason contest against the Celtics.
Waiting, as frustrating as it may feel to him now, is something Williams has become accustomed to since joining the Nets franchise on Feb. 23, 2011 after spending the better part of his first six seasons with Utah.
First, Williams had to endure the Nets' final campaign in New Jersey in 2011-12.
With Lopez limited to only five games due to a broken foot, the Nets went 22-44 and missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive campaign, leaving many to ponder whether Williams would re-sign with the team as a free agent and lead them into their new home at Downtown's Barclays Center.
After inking a five-year, $98 million pact to remain with the franchise, Williams dealt with the frustration of playing on a pair of bad ankles as the Nets struggled to a mediocre start to what was supposed to be their breakthrough season, hastening the firing of coach Avery Johnson just two months after their historic arrival in Brooklyn. He was dubbed everything from overweight to over-rated to coach killer during those first three months as Brooklyn's floor leader, fueling speculation that the Nets had overpaid for their alleged marquee player.
Bolstered by cortisone shots in both ankles and a platelet-rich plasma treatment, Williams, looking lither and certainly healthier, finally emerged as the player the Nets had been waiting for during the second half of 2012-13. He guided Brooklyn to 49 victories, a franchise-record 23 road wins and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
But he still was left with a bitter taste in his mouth after the Nets, by his own admission, played "soft" in getting eliminated from the postseason by a short-handed Chicago Bulls team in seven disappointing games.
The arrival of Garnett, Pierce and Terry in a blockbuster draft day deal with Boston, the addition of free agents like Kirilenko, his former running mate in Utah, and the return of rebounding machine Reggie Evans and versatile backup center Andray Blatche, renewed hope that the Nets would be a legitimate title contender in 2013-14.
Williams spent the offseason gushing over the Nets' rebuilt, battle-ready roster. But he still hasn't had a chance to run the floor with them, sitting out Brooklyn's first three exhibition contests, including last week's home victory over the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat on the night the franchise retired first-year coach Jason Kidd's jersey.
“We won’t know our full potential until he gets healthy," Pierce admitted this week when asked how well this group will mesh together in pursuit of the franchise's first-ever NBA title this season.
Though he's been relegated to shooting by himself and running drills against an imaginary defense while his teammates get fully acquainted on the hardwood, Williams believes the training staff and organization are only doing what's best for the Nets over the long haul.
But that hasn't made it any less unnerving for the three-time All-Star, especially with the team's Oct. 30 season opener in Cleveland looming on the calendar.
“It's frustrating having to sit out, frustrating having to watch them play,” Williams said. “Practice has been fun to watch, but also frustrating to watch because I can't be out there."
That's a lot of frustration for a player who prides himself on being there for his teammates and the franchise that invested nearly $100 million in him.
“He’s going to be the engine that drives this [team]," Pierce added. "He’s the point guard and an All-Star in this league.”
Until that ankle is fully healed, and trainer Tim Walsh and team doctor Riley Williams clear him to play, Williams will simply be another spectator waiting for his chance to run what many are deeming the most talented, if not most decorated, starting five in the NBA.
Pierce, for one, believes the wait will be well worth it, especially if Williams comes back at full health.
“We'd rather see a guy take all the rest that he needs and get to 100 percent so he's ready to go," the former NBA Finals MVP insisted.
By taking it slow with Williams now, the Nets are hoping to get back the deft and talented playmaker that was one of the league's top facilitators during the second half of last season.
Not the one that courageously played through injury in the first half of 2012-13, only to see his performance drop off precipitously and his team operate at less than maximum efficiency.
As frustrating as it may seem to him now, Williams will ultimately be glad he waited an extra few weeks to open his presents.
Hoop du Jour: As expected, neither F Pierce nor F Garnett will play against their former team in Boston on Wednesday night. Both do, however, expect to travel with the Nets to Beantown. ... G Terry is expected to see action against the Celtics after sitting out while recovering from an offseason knee procedure. … If Williams is unable to start the season opener in Cleveland next Wednesday night, or the Nets' home opener against the Heat on Nov. 1, the Nets will have to start veteran free-agent pickup Shaun Livingston, who has played well in Williams' absence during the preseason. Backup point man Tyshawn Taylor continues to recover from an ankle injury of his own, leaving F Alan Anderson, a forward by trade, to man the position until either Williams or Taylor returns. ... According to an NBA.com poll of the league's general managers, the Nets are the heavy favorite (75.9 percent) to win the Atlantic Division this season after finishing second behind the rival Knicks last year. Brooklyn ranked second (24.1 percent) in the poll results regarding which franchise had the best overall offseason behind only Houston (55.2 percent).