"System" problems affecting 2 All-Star caliber players

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The Nets and the borough of Brooklyn breathed a big sigh of relief in the offseason when free agent Deron Williams resigned with the team.

But Williams is struggling this season and really hasn't been the same player that he was in Utah with the Jazz.

Since coming to the Nets, his offensive numbers have taken a drastic hit.

In his five-plus seasons with the Jazz the three-time All-Star point guard shot 46 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range. With the Nets, his field goal percentage is a really bad 39.4 percent and he's shooting just 31.7 percent from three, including an abysmal 29.2 percent this season.

Williams is currently averaging 16.9 points per game, which is his lowest total since putting up 16.2 per game in his first full year as a starter with the Jazz in the 2006-07 season.

And even his playmaking skills haven't been the same. Williams is dishing out 8.1 assists per game this season, which is the lowest total of his career as a fulltime starter. With the Jazz, he averaged 10.2 assists following his rookie season when he was a fulltime starter.

And even though he was considered responsible for the sudden retirement of his former coach in Utah, Jerry Sloan, Williams liked his offensive philosophy.

"That system was a great system for my style of play," Williams said Monday of the "flex" offense run by Sloan. "I'm a system player. I love coach Sloan's system. I loved the offense there."

And when asked to compare the system in Utah with what Nets coach Avery Johnson is running in Brooklyn, Williams was very clear on his preference.

"Is it as good as there? No," he said. "There's just more one-on-one and isos (isolations)."

The Nets coach responded the next day and wasn't upset with his point guards' comments.

"I just think we're putting more and more stuff in that he's familiar with and getting back to some of those things -- a lot of stuff that he did in his Utah system," Johnson said on Tuesday. "And I just think at the end of the day, when the shots are going down, everybody feels better about the team and their individual game.

"About 30 percent of what we do is what was run with him in Utah. I just think we need to do it more on the floor. And really, he has the power and the freedom to call the plays that he's most comfortable with, so I think that's what he's going to get back to doing."

Williams, meanwhile, stood by his stance on Tuesday but said it wasn't a criticism of Johnson.

"You asked me about my time in Utah, I'm not going to badmouth Utah; I had a great time in Utah. I loved the offense. I said we've had struggles on offense here, I haven't felt as comfortable here, which I've said all year," Williams said. "Hasn't changed. My stance hasn't changed. I said I can adapt to any offense and I'm working toward that." Williams claimed there was "nothing to" his comments.

Williams and Johnson need to get on the same page, because without Williams playing at a high level, the Nets will not be a formidable team. I believe in playing to a players' strength, especially your star player, so I think it's incumbent on the Nets coach to do more of the adapting.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol returned to the lineup last night after missing eight games with tendinitis in both knees, but the Lakers were still very unimpressive, as they had to rally from an 18-point third quarter deficit and barely hold on to beat the Charlotte Bobcats, 101-100.

The 4-time All Star's return also didn't calm the debate over his role in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.

Gasol and Dwight Howard didn't spend that much time on the floor together, and don't be surprised if that's a season-long trend.

"They probably won't be," Kobe Bryant said bluntly when asked about the Lakers' two post players playing very little side-by-side.

"We did the same thing a few years ago with Andrew (Bynum) and Pau. In the Triangle, Pau was never comfortable playing the forward position. Andrew was a center so a lot of times we just split 'em. They both would start, then Andrew would come out and Pau would take center and we'd kind of rotate them out."

But judging by Gasol's postgame comments, he believes the Lakers would be more formidable with he and Howard on the floor at the same time.

"I think it's good that we spend some time together on the court and also apart so I can play a little more center and closer to the basket," said Gasol. "But we have to find a balance and the right rotations and timings out there where we can exploit our size when we're together and also give each other some rest.

"We're two talented players and we can overpower people. You're talking about two top big guys in the league, you should take advantage of it."

Prior to Gasols' return, D'Antoni gave a pretty strong hint on how he would utilize him in the offense.

"We play a certain type of basketball," D'Antoni said Monday. "We'll try to get to guys strengths and figure those out, but basically he's going to be good in what we do, I know that."

Asked if Gasol would be posted up more, D'Antoni said: "Everybody wants everybody in the post. We can't put 15 guys there in the post. We can't do it. It doesn't work. Because if you're posting him, that means you're not posting Dwight (Howard). Then you get criticized for not posting Dwight."

It's amazing how D'Antoni sees having two low post weapons as a problem and not an asset.

I think Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins is thrilled about having Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph beating people up inside.

Let's not forget that the San Antonio Spurs basically threw away a season so they could draft Tim Duncan to play alongside David Robinson.

And the Boston Celtics won three championships in the 1980s with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish doing lots of damage in the post.

It seems those history lessons aren't enough for D'Antoni to alter his philosophy.