By John Torenli
Deron Williams’ silence was deafening following the Nets’ 105-100 loss to Cleveland at Newark’s Prudential Center. It rang even louder after Wednesday’s 108-89 home defeat to the Washington Wizards, one of only three NBA teams with a poorer record than the Brooklyn-bound franchise.
But after standing up the media at his locker Monday night, the All-Star point guard had plenty to say at practice Tuesday as he and his teammates prepared to “play out” the remainder of this lockout-abbreviated season with little to no hope of challenging for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“It’s hard to play like that. It’s hard to play,” Williams conceded. “I don’t want to say you can’t get up for games because, of course, you want to win every time you step on the floor. But when you’re trying to make the playoffs, it is motivation to play harder and try to climb the standings. So we’ve got to try to do that even though we know it’s going to be hard to make the playoffs.”
It has been a rough couple of weeks for Williams, expected to be the franchise’s pied piper as it makes it’s way to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 campaign.
Whether it was missing four games with a calf injury, lamenting fellow All-Star Dwight Howard’s decision to remain in Orlando for the foreseeable future at last week’s trade deadline or the team’s last-place standing in the Atlantic Division, Williams has been frustrated, to say the least, this season.
“I thought it was better to leave than talk with a hot head,” Williams said of his early departure from the Nets’ locker room following Monday’s defeat, which all but ended any hope New Jersey had of competing beyond next month’s regular-season finale in Toronto.
“It’s already done,” he added. “It’s a game. Bad games happen. Bad quarters, they happen. We came in and worked hard [Tuesday]. Coach [Avery] Johnson probably works harder than anybody — he was really animated, really excited about practice.”
At 15-33, the Nets find themselves 8½ games behind the resurgent Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 18 games remaining.
Of course, there are also four teams between New Jersey and New York in the standings, all vying for the coveted position, leaving the Nets to work toward building momentum for their historic arrival at the Barclays Center in November.
Only Williams still holds his own, and the Nets’, fate in his talented hands.
With Howard declaring he will remain in Orlando, not only for the remainder of this season, but through next year as well, Williams appears as if he’ll be the lone superstar on the roster as it prepares to evacuate the Garden State once and for all.
With his own free agency pending this summer, the allure of leading the Nets into Brooklyn may pale in comparison to the opportunity of chasing an NBA title elsewhere for Williams.
There will be plenty of suitors for Williams’ services once this season ends, and Orlando — of all places — could be a perfect landing spot for the brilliant playmaker, especially since he can finally form a Magic Kingdom dream team with Howard.
Johnson, for one, knows what motivates his star player, and admitted following Tuesday’s practice what it will take to keep Williams.
“The guy wants to win, he’s all about winning — that’s it,” Johnson emphasized. “He’s not about contracts, he’s not about star power, he’s about winning, all right? That’s what I found out most about him and that’s all he cares about.”
Supporting cast members like Rookie of the Year candidate MarShon Brooks, rebounding machine Kris Humphries and injury-plagued center Brook Lopez may not be enough to keep Williams’ competitive fires stoked, especially if the Nets fall into a season-ending tailspin.
Asking Williams to bear the brunt of the franchise’s recent non-competitiveness, without significant help in the form of another star player next year, may ultimately prove to be a bit too much for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound dynamo.
Then again, Williams, much like Jason Kidd did for the Nets in the previous decade, has the chance to prove himself as a franchise-changing point guard — one capable of lifting the Nets toward their first NBA title within the confines of our fair borough, which has been without a major pro sports team since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.
Williams, who was in Brooklyn this week for an appearance at the MetroPCS store in the Fulton Mall, boiled over again during and presumably following Wednesday’s defeat to the equally woeful Wizards.
He received only his second career ejection, along with Johnson, following a questionable non-foul call in the third quarter.
Again, Williams wasn’t around when the media entered the locker room after the game, leaving Johnson to answer for the Nets’ latest loss.
“Unfortunately both of us got thrown out of the game,” said Johnson. “There was a difference of opinion [with the officials] and I’ll leave it at that. I think we are all disappointed but we have to get back to playing some defense.”
With another season virtually down the tubes, the Nets are hoping Williams ultimately commits to remain a Net for the long haul.
Otherwise, the parade down Atlantic Avenue to the Barclays Center in eight short months will be missing its grand marshal and pied piper.