By Steve Lichtenstein
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Deron Williams had his ankles surgically repaired on Tuesday, and I wish for the doctor’s successful prognosis to prove true.
So the Nets can trade their supposed franchise point guard as soon as possible.
I’ve had it with Williams, who will be on crutches for the next four-to-six weeks but is expected to fully recover by the start of the 2014-15 training camp. The Nets may have no choice but to wait until Williams can be showcased for the rest of the league, but I’m hoping he’ll be moved soon after.
In the meantime, Brooklyn general manager Billy King has a lot on his plate this summer (funny — or not so funny for Nets fans — how this seems to be the case every summer).
A half-dozen key contributors have the option of not returning to a team — the most expensive in league history when factoring in luxury taxes — that underachieved this past season, as the Nets were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Heat after finishing in sixth place in a weak Eastern Conference.
Kevin Garnett could retire. His buddy, Paul Pierce, could follow him out the door to sign elsewhere as a free agent. Shaun Livingston will get a salary offer deserving of his dedication to the game of basketball, but the Nets can only offer him the mini mid-level exception. Reserves Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko and Alan Anderson can all opt out of their deals and look for greener pastures.
But let’s say King finds a way to keep his core, and 2013 All-Star center Brook Lopez — who was lost for the season after fracturing his left ankle and right foot in a December loss in Philadelphia — returns to the lineup.
How much closer would the Nets really be to seriously competing for that elusive NBA championship when they have Williams playing well below the superstar level?
Especially in the biggest moments of the biggest games of the year.
That’s why Williams has to go. You want your max-contract guy — the Nets re-signed Williams to a five-year, $98 million deal when he opted for free agency in the summer of 2012 — to have the ball with the game on the line. What Nets fan wants to see D-Will in that spot?
Williams is best known for passing up open shots, missing late-game free throws and committing costly turnovers in lieu of playing the hero. He no-showed several games this postseason, most infamously the scoreless effort in Game 2 at Miami.
Thank goodness for Joe Johnson, who has taken on the role of Mr. Clutch for the Nets these last two years. After watching Johnson almost singlehandedly extinguish the Raptors in the first round, far fewer NBA followers are mocking his $21 million annual salary.
Williams, on the other hand, might have the most untradeable contract in the league. Three more years, $63 million guaranteed. And a 15 percent “trade kicker,” though it would be mitigated this year by the language in the 2011 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement that disallows such bonuses for players exceeding the league’s maximum salary for that year — which Williams already does.
All for damaged goods, as D-Will has rarely been at full health since getting traded by Utah back in February of 2011.
The problems in his ankles surfaced during the 2012 Olympics and they continued into his inaugural season in Brooklyn. The ensuing tweaks and sprains hindered Williams’ explosiveness. He had inconsistent lift on his jump shot. He struggled to stay in front of opposing point guards. Dunks which used to be routine became heavy discussion topics.
In both seasons, D-Will was injected with cortisone and underwent platelet-rich plasma treatments in attempts to play without constant pain, but they all proved to be short-lived.
Who knows if these surgeries will do the trick? The doctors cleaned out the bone spurs and fragments that were deemed to be the source of Williams’ woes, but that’s just the beginning. Remember how Williams’ 2013-14 season got off on the wrong foot (no pun intended) when he tweaked an ankle during private offseason workouts?
Even if he gets back on the court on time, a trip, a slip or an awkward landing can send D-Will right back to the operating table. There are an awful lot of big feet on the floor, a plot full of figurative land mines for one who needs to play an up-tempo game.
So with all this baggage, how in the world can King find Williams a ride out of town?
It’s not as hard as you think, provided you understand that the Nets won’t get close to full value in return.
Forget high first-round draft choices — that will be a nonstarter for any sensible GM who King calls. What’s important to Brooklyn is getting back contracts of minimal length. Make one of them a serviceable point guard. For example, Houston might still be looking to dump Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.
King would probably have to sweeten the pot in that one, as those two contracts will increase in value when they become expiring contracts this summer. But King has shown creativity in the past to get what he wants. I know I never thought it possible that the Nets could bring over future Hall of Famers Garnett and Pierce prior to draft day last year.
In the future, however, when the Nets’ cap has all but cleared out, King needs to spend Mikhail Prokhorov’s money more wisely. Long-term contracts should be tendered to players of consistent production and durability.
And max contracts should be reserved solely for those players with transformative abilities. Those players are rarely available.
We now know why D-Will was.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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