- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN New York Writer
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Is Avery Johnson's offensive system to blame for Deron Williams' struggles?
Or should D-Will be looking in the mirror?
The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle.
Both the Nets' coach and his best player downplayed what happened Monday, when Williams told reporters that he's uncomfortable playing in Johnson's isolation-heavy scheme.
Johnson said Tuesday he didn't take it personally. D-Will said he was just answering a question.
Of course, he didn't have to answer it that way. He didn't have to praise his former coach, Jerry Sloan, and the Utah Jazz's "flex" offense. He didn't have to refer to himself as a "system player."
D-Will is too smart for that. He has been in the NBA for a long time.
As has already been well-documented, Williams is in the midst of the worst season of his career.
• He's shooting a career-low 31.7 percent from at least 10 feet this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
• His 16.9 points per game are his fewest since 2006-07 -- his second season in the NBA.
• His 8.1 assists per game are his fewest since his rookie year, when he made just 47 starts.
When I asked Johnson if he thinks Williams gets enough open shots, the coach said yes. But he also said he'd implement more plays that D-Will ran in Utah in an attempt to make the three-time All-Star feel more comfortable.
Johnson later added that it was just a "cycle of the season" and figures this will all be water under the bridge once the team starts winning again -- the Nets are 2-7 in December -- and D-Will finds his jumper, wherever it may be.
But Johnson has developed a reputation for being a micromanager, according to reports, and perhaps he is guilty of not giving Williams enough freedom to orchestrate the offense the way he'd like to.
"At times I've heard that, he likes to micromanage the game," Williams told the New York Daily News earlier in December.
Johnson is in a precarious position. He is in the final year of his contract, and his $98 million point guard isn't happy.
Johnson has to walk a fine line. You wonder if another coach would've already called out his star for not producing. Enough with the injury talk. Enough with the confidence talk. Put this team on your back and turn it into the 11-4 squad it was in November.
When the Nets were playing well, they had begun to develop an identity as a slow-it-down, grind-it-out, half-court team that was getting it done defensively. But when Brook Lopez missed seven games because of a sprained right foot, they lost that identity.
Now they are trying to get it back -- Lopez has since returned and played the past three games -- while attempting to figure out how to be a better third-quarter team (only the Washington Wizards are worse) and how to not lose when leading by at least 10 points (according to Elias, the Nets have already done that six times).
Winning is the easiest fix. Making a trade to give D-Will more help -- perhaps a solid pick-and-roll big man -- could be another solution.
Bottom line: Williams needs to turn his season around, and Johnson needs to help him make that happen.
Is Avery Johnson's offensive system to blame for Deron Williams' struggles? Or should D-Will be looking in the mirror? The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle.