EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Now is Deron Williams' chance to prove his critics wrong.
Williams has been injured since training camp, which clearly set the team back in terms of trying to find continuity and cultivate an identity.
Said teammate Paul Pierce of Williams: "He's kind of the head of our snake, and the way we're going to play is going to be determined by how he pushes the tempo. That's kind of been the missing element for us. But until we get him back, I don't know if we'll be able to see our true potential."
Without him, the Nets (6-14) haven't looked anything like the championship-caliber team they aspire to be.
"I don't think anyone at the beginning of the season pictured it would be like this," Williams said Monday. "But it hasn't happened the way we wanted it to. But there's still a lot of games left for us to turn this thing around."
In the nine games he has played in, he's averaging just 9.3 points and 6.0 assists; the Nets have gone 3-6. His Player Efficiency Rating of 13 is below the league average of 15.
Williams looked uncomfortable running the offense -- struggling to get a feel for when to get his new teammates involved and when to look for his own shot.
If they're going to turn their season around, the Nets need Williams to be the All-Star caliber player he was during the second half of last season. If he is, they're such a different team. If not, well, it's going to be more of the same.
During his tenure with the Nets, Williams has had his moments: his 57-point outburst in Charlotte; his 11 3-pointer game against the Wizards; his 18-point third-quarter against Jeremy Lin; and the 20-assist game.
But he's also been hurt a lot. He's been called "moody" and "sulky." His "superstar" status has been called into question.
Well, this is his chance to prove his critics wrong.
"It's frustrating. Just to be sitting out in general is frustrating," Williams said. "It's not fun to be sitting and watching your teammates play."
Williams was still trying to get back to full strength when he first got injured -- so perhaps expectations have to be tempered a bit.
"It's just hard. It's hard to tell [how you are] when you're not practicing," he said. "That's what I was dealing with when I first came back: it's either I use games as practice or I don't because we're an older team so we're not going to practice that much. And when we do, we really don't have enough to scrimmage, so it was a dilemma. I have to come back and use these games to get into a rhythm."
Is Williams going to try to change the way he plays in order to avoid future injuries?
"No matter what you do, you fall on somebody's shoe you're going to twist your ankle," Williams said. "I don't know how I can avoid it. I can try shooting like Brook and not jumping."
Question: What are your expectations for Williams? Can he turn the Nets' season around?
In case you missed it: D-Will says he'll play Tuesday. Pierce said there's a "good chance" he will, too.
Pierce also talked at length about his Boston days and moving on.
Up next: Nets vs. Celtics, Tuesday night at Barclays Center.