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Shaun Powell

Deron Williams
During a loss to Atlanta, Deron Williams' body language said it all.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

D-Will, slumping Nets struggle to stay focused on the future

Posted Jan 13 2012 10:24AM

If body language could talk -- like actually talk, out loud -- you'd need to cover your ears around Deron Williams, who often looks like he's unhappy from head to toe.

The slumped shoulders, the cold stares, the resigned expressions. They've all been a part of this lost season with the Nets as he heads to Utah on Saturday for a reminder of what winning basketball was once about.

Those choice words he had for Jerry Sloan, which led to Williams being shipped to the Nets, are nothing compared to the nightly vocabulary he uses on the court without actually moving his lips. Even Williams caught himself in the act.

"I could tell my body language was bad the last couple games, so it's something I wanted to change," he said he other day, after a loss to the Hawks. "I've got to do a better job of leading these guys. They can't see me frustrated, visibly frustrated."

The key word is "visibly." Whatever churns inside the pit of Williams' stomach is an altogether different deal. Clearly, Williams isn't happy about toiling for a 2-9 team. Nobody would be, particularly a top-12 player. The frustration reached a boiling point Wednesday when he was ejected for arguing with the refs in Denver, where the Nets began a four-game Western swing.

The bigger problem facing Williams is finding out whether better days are ahead for the Nets. He'll have the option this summer, as a free agent, to leave the team behind. But the Nets, for their part, are hoping to be his choice. Nothing else matters for a franchise that desperately wants to bring stars and a winning team to Brooklyn next season.

The Nets are doing everything to keep Williams happy. Everything except surrounding him with better players. That'll have to wait until this summer, when Dwight Howard becomes a free agent. And even Howard's no guarantee to sign up. The Nets right now are in a potentially tough spot, because if Williams and Howard turn them down, basketball will be a tough sell once the Nets settle down in Knicks country.

Williams isn't saying one thing or another right now about his future, and other than the body language, he's been a good soldier, considering the circumstances. No outbursts or demands. He has shown up and played hard. And the Nets have no complaints about Williams, no reservations about making him the face of the franchise.

"He's not going to accept losing," said coach Avery Johnson, who raves about Williams' competitive spirit.

After winning on opening night, however, the Nets have lost nine of 10. Now comes a curiously timed visit to Utah, where basketball was great for Williams until it went so terribly wrong.

He became a star with the Jazz in those 5 years, a stay that soured after his infamous blowup with Sloan, which ultimately led to Sloan's retirement. But that wasn't the worst of it. Utah didn't think Williams wanted to re-sign, and that, more than the Sloan incident, led to last season's trade.

Utah made out well in the deal, getting Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-rounders (one spent on Enes Kanter) and cash. It was a gutsy move because Williams was being traded two summers before he became a free agent, not one. In hindsight, it allowed the Jazz to shift the pressure of re-signing Williams to the Nets, who will begin to feel it soon.

The Nets have the edge to keep Williams, from a financial standpoint; they can pay Williams more than anyone else. But it won't be simple. The Mavericks are clearing cap room and will make it hard for Williams to turn down his hometown team and the chance to feed the ball to Dirk Nowitzki.

Still, with regard to Williams, plenty depends on Howard and what he does. The gamble by the Nets to trade for Williams could pay off big, or it could cripple the franchise for the near future. Moving to Brooklyn without stars or the chance to win is almost suicidal from a business standpoint, new arena or not, honeymoon or not.

All the Nets can do right now is keep Williams from becoming unhinged as they grind their way through a transitional season. It can be a tough mental exercise, trying to win with a team that has no shot at doing anything special. Johnson knows a big part of his job is keeping Williams' spirits up and his attention toward the big picture.

"What he sees right now is a (2-9) team. But where are we going?" said Johnson. "We have a plan. We have a bright future."

Maybe so. But it's the middle of January. For a competitor like Williams, Brooklyn and better days seem very far away.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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