Nets can't afford to have Deron Williams play at sub-par level

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The Nets' Deron Williams appears during a news

The Nets' Deron Williams appears during a news conference at the PNY Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on Thursday May 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Brian Branch Price

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Paul Pierce and (especially) Kevin Garnett at times seemed to be as much publicity stunts as core players.

Brook Lopez has been injury prone and might not even be a good fit for coach Jason Kidd's system.

Joe Johnson is a basketball metronome, a reliable given.

Which leads us inevitably back to the single biggest X-factor in the Nets' near future, the very highly paid, former Best Point Guard on Earth candidate Deron Williams.

Before we start pointing out Mr. Williams' flaws, though, give the guy credit for feeling fans' pain Thursday as the team gathered one last time before parting ways.

"I feel I've kind of let people down, so I don't like feeling like that," he said, 15 hours after the loss to the Heat that ended the season.

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"I take my job seriously. I work hard in the offseason. I work hard every day. It is just really frustrating not to be able to play how I'm capable of playing."

There are two ways of looking at Williams mostly attributing that failure to ongoing ankle woes.

You could say it's an excuse, more evidence of a player who widely has been labeled as emotionally fragile. But if you are a Nets fan you had better hope that really is the (presumably fixable) problem, what with three years remaining on a five-year, $98.7-million contract and his 30th birthday approaching next month.

Williams said he was to have an MRI Friday and visit with Martin O'Malley, a team doctor, on Monday, with the probability of surgery on both ankles that would be "nothing major" but would be designed to "clean stuff" out.

Williams said he is worried about the number of cortisone injections he has gotten in his ankles most recently before Game 7 of the first-round series against the Raptors.

The ankle problems over both of his seasons in Brooklyn have taken a toll physically and psychologically.

"It just took a beating on me," he said. "I couldn't do what I wanted to. I can't finish the way I want to finish. You start thinking about things. So that was just the main thing was confidence-wise, it's hard to get back to where I was."

He added, "I just feel like I haven't been able to play the way I want to since I've been here, really. And so it's just been tough, it's been tough to swallow, but hopefully we can figure things out and get back to playing like I want to play."

It's not as if Williams has been consistently awful. He is a more than adequate point guard as is. But he was the star around whom the Nets chose to build -- as evidenced by his contract -- and merely good is not nearly good enough for a team with championship aspirations.

Williams did say that even at his best he will not dominate statistically on what he called an "equal opportunity team" full of scorers.

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"I'm not going to be a guy coming out here and scoring 30," he said. "That's not how we play."

There has been speculation Billy King might attempt the improbable and seek to unload Williams and his contract, but the general manager was adamant Thursday about the value of roster continuity, which seemed to argue against such a move.

"I think he's his biggest critic," King said of Williams. "There was a lot of pressure on him but he kept pushing himself, didn't quit and that was the identity of this team."

Williams is too young and too talented and too expensive to give up on. But he is too important for the Nets to overcome him being subpar.

"I definitely can play better; I can shoot better than I did in the playoffs," he said. "But it was tough. Definitely confidence-wise, I used to step on the court and feel like I was the best player no matter who I played against, so I have to get back to that.

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"Even if I'm not the best player on the court, I have to feel like I am."

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