You’ve heard the story $190 million times by now.
The Brooklyn Nets assembled the most expensive team in NBA history last season, tossing down a record figure on player salary and luxury tax, only to get booted in the second round by LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
After cutting back slightly but still maintaining the league’s priciest payroll and trotting out its most expensive troika, the Nets have stumbled out to a 13-16 start, barely sniffing the playoff race in a weak Eastern Conference, and putting up a 1-10 record against teams above .500.
A low-grade calf strain for Deron Williams and a lower back strain for Brook Lopez have forced the two longer-tenured players in the “Big 3” to come off the bench, behind regular backup Jarrett Jack and sophomore center Mason Plumlee.
Both Plumlee and Jack have played well in the starting lineup, as Williams & Lopez have languished in the background: Lopez missed all five of his shots en route to his first scoreless performance in over six years, and Williams hit just two of seven shots, admitting to “careless” play beginning in the third quarter, when he lost three turnovers in the span of roughly five minutes of playing time.
After hearing that coach Lionel Hollins wanted him & Lopez to improve on their poor performances, Williams agreed, saying the responsibility was on them as expensive players. “We do have to play better. We’re two of the highest-paid players on the team, so that’s our responsibility, is to play better,” Williams said. “Hopefully, we can accept that challenge. I think I do, and Brook does. & just move forward.”
Jack has performed admirably in Williams’s absence: he has averaged a robust 20.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting and 6.5 assists in four games as a starter since Williams went down, and the Nets have outscored opponents by 2.6 points per 100 possessions with Jack as the lone point guard on the floor in the past four games.
Nonetheless, Jack had little concern about Williams long-term, saying “he’ll be fine” and offering his own analysis as a point guard.
“I think whenever you’re dealing with an injury, especially a lower-extremity injury, it doesn’t allow you to explode like you want or attack like you want,” Jack said.
Williams is no stranger to lower-extremity injuries, having dealt with a comprehensive injury history that culminated in simultaneous surgery on both ankles following last season’s exit from the playoffs.
“It’s tough, trusting the injury, so you can go in there and do things without having to second-guess yourself,” Jack added. “It takes a little bit of time. I thought in Boston he played tremendous. Today, a lot of us had trouble handling the basketball, myself included, so he’ll be fine. Deron is a top, high-level point guard, and I think he’ll get back to that as soon as he gets back adjusted, and I look forward to him getting back to that form.”
The Nets have dangled Williams & Lopez, as well as fellow expensive teammate Joe Johnson, in trades in the past two weeks, speaking with the Sacramento Kings about a deal centered around Williams.