The Utah Jazz traded Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets on February 23, 2011. Six years later, that pain still resonates with me.
As a student of the game, you get a feeling when trades are going to work. Pau Gasol to the Lakers was an ideal match. Rasheed Wallace to Detroit was like adding one more bash brother to Gordon Bombay’s Mighty Ducks.
D-Will to the Nets had different ring to it. It felt forced, and the fit didn’t make basketball sense. After leaving an organization where winning was the standard, it was hard to see the vision for Williams and the Nets.
Prior to the trade, the Jazz were going through a transition phase. Gone was Mehmet Okur, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and All-Star forward Carlos Boozer. The nucleus of players who battled some of the best teams in the Western Conference were long gone. Although the Jazz was shifting into a new era, it was far and away a better team than the Nets.
Williams and then-head coach Jerry Sloan were two of the mainstays on the Jazz. It’s no secret that when Sloan was on the sideline you are likely to make the playoffs. In 23 years coaching Utah, Sloan had just one season under .500. With the legendary coach and elite point guard in cahoots, the Jazz were still slated to make the playoffs despite an overhaul to the roster that featured new talents like Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward before he started wearing his hair like Roger Klotz.
Deron Williams was never the same after Jerry Sloan resigned. (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
After a 31-25 start to the season, things began to change for the worse. On February 9, 2011, the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls, ironically in a game against former Jazz players Korver, Boozer and Brewer.
Without warning, Sloan resigned the next day.
As you might expect, Williams didn’t seem to be accountable for Sloan’s exit. Per ESPN, the All-Star point guard stated:
“I don’t want to say we’ve had a rocky relationship, but we’ve had our disagreements over the years, probably no more than any other coach and player have arguments…we’re both very stubborn and I think that’s where we clashed. But one thing we always agreed on is that we wanted to win.”
From there, Nothing Was The Same, Tyrone Corbin was named the interim coach, and Williams wore out his welcome in Utah. In the words of Drake, “Yeah, back and forth across the border line/hate to leave the city, but I’ve got to do the overtime/Gone all the time, even the important times/I should let you know ahead I’m comin’ back on my worst behavior.”
That said, shortly after, Williams was on his way to New Jersey. Chances were high that Williams was going to bolt during free agency, therefore Utah had to get players in return. Small market teams are always squelched into situations like this, and after an alleged feud engulfed between Williams and Sloan, things were uneasy in the Salt Lake City.
With the threat of him leaving in the same summer, Utah was left with one option—trade their franchise player.
In 2011, the stars in the NBA were making power moves. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were starring in New York. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were fresh off a championship. The Miami Heat assembled the “Big 3” with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James on a quest to win not one, but two, but three……championships, you know how the rest goes.
With free agency looming, and the Nets’ impending move to Brooklyn on the horizon, Williams’ trade was about making him a superstar on and off the court. He was an Olympic gold medalist, All-NBA and an All-Star performer in Utah, but his brand wasn’t as big as his other basketball contemporaries.
For New Jersey, the feeling was reciprocated. After being spurned by LeBron and other stars during free agency, they were desperate to make a splash. The hype of Jay-Z, the move to Brooklyn and a brand new arena were supposed to lure big names to the team. Sure enough, it didn’t happen. General manager Billy King, head coach Avery Johnson and owner Mikhail Prokhorov were worried about filing up Barclays Center with Sundiata Gaines and Kris Humphries. Hence, they doubled down on Williams—which made sense for them.
I swayed back and forth believing that it could be a good move, but I knew it wasn’t. Outside of a 57 point game against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012, the Deron Williams experience in New Jersey and Brooklyn was unexciting, to say the least. Williams wasn’t the same player, a dominant force that ruled the best point guards in the NBA for a four-year period.
His ankles became problematic and his jumper was inconsistent as he only shot 45 percent just once compared to the four times he did it in Utah. As the front-runner of the D-Will fan club, it was painful to witness.
D-Will owned CP3 in head-to-head matchups. (Source: Sports-Kings.com)
Not taking anything away from Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash or Tony Parker, but there was a time where Williams was arguably the best point guard in the game. When he departed Utah, everything else left—except for his healthy hairline.
Williams’ five-year stint with the Nets didn’t resemble anything close to what it was in Utah. There were no magical playoff moments. Instead, there were inconsistencies, injuries, and a $100 million contract that placed expectations on his shoulders that he couldn’t handle.
Fast-forwarding six years later, the Jazz is one of up and coming teams in the league. The Nets picked up shop from Jersey to Brooklyn and they are rebuilding—again. Williams is now manning the point guard spot in Dallas, and surprisingly there are conversations surfacing mentioning a return to Utah. A return to Salt Lake City will bring a smile to many faces—including myself.
It would also serve as a reminder that if the trade never happened six years ago today, a trip to Springfield would be a certainty, instead of just a possibility.
Instead, the pressure of chasing money, brands and superstar prestige, this trade ultimately hurt the legacy of one of the best point guards of a generation.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp
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