Avery Johnson's firing puts the pressure squarely on Deron Williams' shoulders.
Shortly after Deron William voiced his frustration with the Nets' offense, specifically its lack of a defined "system," the architect of that system-less offense noted that when Joe Johnson had an issue earlier in the year, he pulled the coach aside to explain his problem. It wasn't hard to see the sub-text here.
"At the end of the day everybody handles stress and pressure and situations differently," Avery Johnson said at the time. "I've got 15 basically students in my class and everybody's not going to have the same reaction to situations."
Avery Johnson is no longer the coach. He was fired by the Nets on Thursday after a brutal loss to the Bucks, which followed a terrible loss to the Celtics at home on Christmas that prompted CEO Brett Yormark to apologize on Twitter for the team's performance. All of that is the culmination of a stretch in which the Nets have lost 10 of 13 after a promising 11-4 start.
The timing may seen quick, given that Johnson was named the NBA's Coach of the Month in November, but he was in the final year of his contract and the Nets' slide in December has been sudden and dramatic.
Their undoing was mostly on the defensive end. Despite Williams' protests, the Nets offense was better than its reputation, ranking a solid 10th in points per 100 possessions. Although heavy on isolations and short on flow, Avery Johnson's system still provided a solid forum for Joe Johnson to do his thing and for Brook Lopez to recapture his game.
Obviously, this is not about the other max players on the roster. This is about Deron Williams, who has not been the franchise point guard he was in Utah and who is struggling through the worst season of his career in the first year of a five-year contract that will pay him almost $100 million.
Williams is shooting less than 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc, and hasn't been the kind of dynamic playmaker he was in Utah. In parts of three seasons with the Nets, Williams has been nothing short of a colossal disappointment, and now his hands are dirty with the blood of two coaches: Johnson and Jerry Sloan in Utah.
It would be poetic justice if the Nets were able to coax Sloan out of semi-retirement to try to rejuvenate Williams' stagnating career and frankly, it wouldn't hurt Williams' reputation to make another go of it with the demanding Sloan. Williams doesn't come out of this looking good at all, but if he is the franchise then it's on the coach to help him reach his potential and that wasn't happening with Avery Johnson in charge.
It remains to be seen if it was the system that was holding him back or if his best days are behind him. If it's the latter then the Nets are in far greater trouble than they are today. They have more than $260 million tied up in four players -- Williams, Johnson, Lopez and Gerald Wallace -- for the next three seasons after this one.
Williams stands at a crossroads now. As great as he was in Utah, he has long lived in the shadows of the game's other greats. At his best, he was known as the second-best point guard on the planet. He has battled injuries and wasted two prime years with a franchise that operated in a state of suspended animation.
Williams got what he wanted. Now, he must produce.