NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – So how much of a factor was Deron Williams in the firing of Avery Johnson?

The question is naturally being asked, as many believe that it was Williams who drove legendary coach Jerry Sloan to retire when the point guard was with the Utah Jazz.

General manager Billy King, unsurprisingly, kept his words vague when discussing the organization’s decision to relieve Johnson of his head-coaching duties.

Watching us, we just didn’t have the same fire that we had when we were 11-4,” King told reporters. “Talking to Avery, we tried to figure it out, but weren’t able to pinpoint what was missing. I have a pretty good pulse of players. Not just Deron, but all our guys. I just got a sense that, as I told Avery this morning, for some reason he just wasn’t reaching them anymore.”

He even went out of his way to point out that blaming Williams is simply unjust.

“To try to pinpoint this all on Deron, it’s not fair,” King said.

Even the devastated Johnson didn’t blame the three-time All-Star.

“I don’t think it’s fair for anybody to hang this on Deron,” the former Nets coach said. “He’s one player. We had 15 players, and it’s up to the coach really to try to maximize the team.”

But according to Howard Beck of The New York Times, the former first-round pick started to waver in his loyalty toward  his coach.

Beck wrote, “By the time Johnson was fired, he had lost several members of the locker room. Williams was the most obvious one, and his decision not to play Wednesday night in Milwaukee — citing a wrist injury that he had played through all season — only fueled speculation that he had, as one friend of Johnson’s said, ‘totally quit on Avery.'”

The seventh-year player vehemently denied that he did any such thing, and maintains that he had — and has — and great relationship with Johnson.

“I was surprised,” Williams said in a telephone interview with the New York Daily News. “I never had any conversation with King about not liking coach, nothing about coach Johnson. Avery was a big reason I came back, because of him and Billy. So I was surprised.”

The two-time All-NBA Second Team selection also got on the offensive, and voiced his displeasure with the reputation that he’s a so-called “coach killer.”

“We’ve never had an argument, we’ve never had a fight, any disagreements, anything,” Williams told the newspaper. “So I think it was more kind of what happened in Utah, people still saying I got coach Sloan fired even though he resigned. And that’s going to stick with me for awhile.”

TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal both ripped the point guard on Thursday night, criticizing both his character and his play.

“He’s got the reputation of getting coaches fired,” Barkley said. “Whatever happened in Utah, it happened. Whatever happened in Brooklyn, it happened. This is all on Deron Williams right now. It’s time to put up or shut up.”

O’Neal took it a step further.

“Sometimes before great players point fingers, they should look in the mirror,” O’Neal said. “This is the first time I’ve heard the guy with the ball at all times say that he doesn’t like the offense. My advice is for him to look in the mirror and see if he’s doing enough. At times, I think he’s trying to do too much. There are only 24 seconds on the shot clock and he spends 10-12 seconds dribbling between his legs.

“He needs to get everyone else involved and himself involved. … He’s not really playing that well.”

O’Neal is right — he isn’t playing that well.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pounder is averaging 16.6 points, 8 assists and 3.1 rebounds, but is shooting under 40 percent from the field.

How much of a factor do you think Deron Williams was in the firing of Avery Johnson? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…


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