Nathaniel S. Butler/Brooklyn Nets
(December 12, 2013)
BROOKLYN—Mention snakes to all almost any grade-school child and the first question you’ll hear is this: Is it poisonous?
Snakes were a topic of conversation Tuesday night in the Brooklyn Nets locker room following their 104-96 win over the Boston Celtics. Well, the analogy of point guards and snakes made the rounds.
Paul Pierce was asked the significance of having a healthy Deron Williams back in the lineup?
"He is the head of the snake," Paul Pierce said. "He is one of the most important pieces of what we are trying to do here and we are trying to build and win a championship."
With the exception of the elite super star – Jordan, Bryant, James – there is no more important player on the court than the point guard.
No franchise knows this as well as the Nets.
When they had Stephon Marbury, a poisonous point guard because he was more concerned with himself than his team, the Nets were a failure.
When Rod Thorn pulled off the best trade in franchise history – the one that sent Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd – the Nets literally were transformed overnight.
If you need a more recent reference, just consider the Chicago Bulls.
With Derrick Rose they are an NBA title contender. Without Rose, as we learned last season, Chicago is just another playoff team, hoping for a good first-round matchup before booking tee times.
The Nets, despite their 7-14 record, are an Eastern Conference championship contender with a healthy Williams, a Williams that is, as the Nets say each time they end practice, ‘All in!’
While Williams was recuperating from his second sprained left ankle of the season, the Nets underwent some significant changes. Coach Jason Kidd determined that the Nets would be better served with center Brook Lopez being the focal point of the offense.
That has been D-Will’s role since coming to the Nets.
Almost every move GM Billy King has made – the trade for Joe Johnson, the trade for Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Pierce – have been done with goal of surrounding Williams with a championship team.
So as important as the Nets victory over the Celtics was because it marked the first back-to-back wins of the season, the fact that Williams saw he could flourish in Kidd’s Lopez-centric offense was more important in the long run.
A disgruntled Williams could have made for a poisonous snake in the Nets locker room. But in the Boston win, in which the Nets did go to Lopez early and often – he had 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, Williams had a season-high and a game-high 25 points.
“I knew how important my role is, especially seeing us struggle,’’ said Williams. “I’ve never felt like my role is diminished or wasn’t there. I just felt like I needed to play better.’’
Williams and the rest of the Nets will have to play significantly better Thursday night when the Clippers, 15-8, come to Barclays Center.
The Clippers are led by point guard Chris Paul, the fourth player picked in the 2005 draft. Williams was the third player picked. Their careers will be linked, and ultimately defined, by whose team has the most success.
Neither has won an NBA title.
“They’re a good team, a good test for us,’’ said Williams. “And Chris Paul is definitely the head of that snake. He does so many great things for that team.’’
Ah, we’re back to snakes.
The Clippers also have taken care in dealing with Paul. They resigned forward Blake Griffin and then lured coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics. It paved the way for them to sign Paul to a five-year, $107 million deal this summer.
Paul is second in the league in double-doubles. He had 12 points and 13 assists against the Nets in a 110-103 win. Williams was one of four injured Nets starters who didn’t play that night in L.A.
Thursday night Williams and Paul will spend a good amount of energy trying to cut off each other’s head. Call it the NBA version of snakes on a plane.
The Nets are 6-14 going into this week, having split their last four games. Here’s a look at what we learned about the Nets last week and what we can look forward.
SIZE MATTERS: What began as a demoralizing week with blowout losses to Denver and the Knicks in Barclays Center ended with some positive vibe.
In a 90-82 win at Milwaukee, the Nets got 32 points from center Brook Lopez, and, just as important, might have found an offensive identity.
Coach Jason Kidd said the Nets, one of the biggest teams in the NBA, are going to put that size advantage to work.
“We’re going to slow it down,” said Kidd. “We’re going to try to get the ball inside, work in and out. … We’re not going to be a team that is going to zoom up the court and try to score 110 points every night.”
That concept was endorsed by Williams, the player that has to make it work. Williams, a dynamo in the open court, said he doesn’t think the Nets system will change drastically.
“It doesn’t change,” Kidd said when asked if he would the stay the course when Williams returned. “This is who we are.’’
“We have to get the ball inside and then there also is a process with him coming back, getting him used to the other guys but also being able to use him in positions where he can be successful.”
The Nets will run when the opportunity presents itself. But it’s become clear in losses to teams like Denver, Portland and Minnesota, which have young, quick guards, that trying to match pace and baskets is not in the Nets’ best interest.
M.A.S.H.: After a first six weeks in which the trainer’s room was ridiculously crowded, the Nets are starting to see some light on the injury front: