After another injury-plagued season that began with championship-competing aspirations and ended with a too-early postseason exit marked by multiple quiet playoff performances, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams will undergo surgery on both of his ankles next Tuesday, as the nine-year veteran continues to search for answers to the persistent health problems that have knocked him from the ranks of the game's top point guards over the past few seasons.
Williams "will have a bone chip removed from his right ankle, and the left ankle will have an arthroscopic cleanout with removal of spurs from both the front and back of the ankle," Dr. Martin O’Malley, the Nets' foot and ankle specialist, said in a team statement. "Deron is expected to make a full recovery.”
The Nets did not release an expected timetable for that recovery.
Williams, who will turn 30 years old in June, has battled a host of injury issues since shortly after the then-New Jersey Nets acquired him from the Utah Jazz in a February 2011 trade deadline deal that sent power forward Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, financial considerations and first-round picks in 2011 (used on Turkish big man Enes Kanter) and 2013 (used on Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, who was later packaged with small forward Shabazz Muhammad and shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves for point guard Trey Burke).
After his arrival in New Jersey, Williams struggled with a right wrist injury that he'd suffered prior to the deal, re-injuring it and eventually requiring season-ending surgery on it. Whether due to the wrist troubles, mechanical issues or a plain-and-simple prolonged slump, Williams struggled with his shot during his first full (well, lockout-shortened, but you get the idea) season with the Nets, knocking in just under 41 percent of his shots and 34 percent of his 3-point tries during the 2011-12 campaign, but his per-game production (21 points and just under nine assists per game) were just about in line with his All-Star caliber numbers from Utah, even if they served largely as empty calories on a bad 22-44 Nets team that was circling the drain in Newark before embarking on a bold new rebranding in Brooklyn.
In the two seasons since that move — and since inking a five-year, $98.8 million maximum contract to be the Nets' franchise point guard — the former Fighting Illini star has struggled most with balky ankles. Williams said even before the start of the 2012-13 season that he might need post-season surgery to repair his left ankle, which he hurt while playing on the U.S. men's national team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He missed practices and received an injection in that ankle before opening night; the Nets suggested that the bone spurs in Williams' ankle were no big deal, but he missed more time before the All-Star break, and received cortisone injections and platelet-rich plasma therapy on "his inflamed ankles" during All-Star Weekend.
It was later revealed that Williams had received at least eight cortisone injections in his ankles in a four-month span just to try to stay on the court; small wonder, then, that it became headline news for the formerly hiccup-quick off-the-bounce and high-rising guard to be able to actually dunk in an NBA game again. By season's end, Williams had recovered enough to show at least some of the fire of old — he averaged just under 21 points and 8 1/2 assists per game and shot just under 40 percent from 3-point land in the Nets' seven-game first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls.
About five weeks before the start of the 2013-14 season, Williams injured his right ankle, putting him in a walking boot. About three weeks after opening night, he sprained his left ankle, missing 11 games. He came back and had some moments, but the problems flared up again in early January, knocking him out for a handful more games and keeping him from going on the Nets' trip to London to play the Atlanta Hawks.
“I just want to get healthy again, man,” Williams said in February. “If I get healthy, I know what can happen. It’s been a frustrating two years for me injury-wise. It’s something I can’t really control. Hopefully I can figure it out this summer and then go from there.”
Williams performed solidly enough down the stretch — 15.5 points, 5.6 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals per game on 45/35/82 shooting splits after the All-Star break — but he was too quiet too often for a revamped veteran Nets squad that needed him to be the straw that stirs the drink. He alternated disappearing acts with flashes of brilliance in the playoffs, and came up with more of the former than the latter during the Nets' second-round loss to the Miami Heat, averaging just 11.2 points per game on 36.7 percent shooting in the five-game exit that sent Brooklyn into an offseason full of questions.
"I definitely can play better; I can shoot better than I did in the playoffs," Williams told reporters after the Nets' season ended. "But it was tough. Definitely confidence-wise, I used to step on the court and feel like I was the best player no matter who I played against, so I have to get back to that. Even if I'm not the best player on the court, I have to feel like I am."
The surgeries — most notably the removal of the bone spurs, which, according to injury analyst Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes, "may be the culprits behind Williams’ chronic inflammation" — could be the first step toward Williams once again regaining the off-the-dribble explosion and ability to get to the rim that will once again make him feel like the best player on the floor. With three years and $63,128,400 remaining on his max deal, the Nets had better hope it is.
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