I’d Rather Be a Loser than a Hostage

April 15th, 2011 | by Jeff Lind

[Editor's Note: Guest writer Nick Smith joins Salt City Hoops to discuss the untimely departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. Is there any upside in what transpired last season?]

Last July the Jazz’ wild 2010-11 season unofficially began when Portland offered undrafted rookie Wes Matthews a massive contract. With the recent departure of Carlos Boozer, as well as the determination that the Jazz were not interested in retaining Kyle Korver, it was clear this season would bring some changes. Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor began working the phones to replace roster pieces they had lost in the offseason, and at the time, it seemed like he did a nice job filling major gaps with the additions of Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, and Gordon Hayward. After all, with Deron Williams’ contract in its final years, the Jazz had no time to waste in convincing him that Utah would be the place he could win a championship and where he should re-sign. But if the Jazz learned anything from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors last summer, it’s that there is a fine line between striving to make your organization one that will be attractive for big-time players and becoming a hostage to free agency by allowing a star player dictate how you manage your operations.

The Jazz began the season living up to their high expectations.  However despite the great start, many of the Jazz players expressed that the team was not as good as their record indicated; they were right. The Jazz subsequently became the first team in NBA history not to qualify for the postseason after beginning the year with a 27-13 record. The monumental meltdown began sometime in mid-December and continued into the new year as it felt the Jazz were dropping game after game. Frustrations in the locker room began surfacing as the season progressed and the team struggled to find consistency. Add the mid-season resignation of head coach Jerry Sloan and long-time assistant Phil Johnson and suddenly this team was in even deeper trouble. With Deron Williams taking much of the heat for Sloan’s departure, his soon-to-be legacy of being the player that drove beloved coach Sloan out of town seemed to make Deron’s free agency decision a no brainer. The Jazz were doomed; the clock was slowly ticking toward the end of Deron’s contract while the Utah-bound shadow of the Cleveland Cavaliers drifted slowly across the plains.

Two weeks after Sloan’s retirement lightning struck again. A SportsCenter-delivered message shocked Deron Williams and the rest of Utah when learning that he had been traded to the New Jersey Nets. What did all of this mean for a Jazz fan? I struggled to find the positives in trading away your franchise player for unproven pieces until just two days later the New Jersey Nets held a press conference that began sorting everything out. At the press conference Deron said something that made it perfectly clear how Jazz fans should feel about the trade. In response to a reporter’s question about Williams’ future with the Nets, Deron said; “I can’t really give any assurances, or say that I’ll be here — I don’t know what the future holds, I look forward to the possibility of it… It all depends on how the next year goes.” Wow!  How do you feel hearing this if you are a fan of the New Jersey Nets? The reality is, on the day of the trade the Jazz organization released themselves from Free Agency purgatory and were proactive in beginning to plan for the future. They stole three years from the inevitable rebuilding process by acquiring assets and draft picks that takes years for suffering teams to earn.

Deron has since expressed that he will consider an extension with the Nets and many still argue that the Jazz should not have traded him and should have tried to convince him to stay, Toronto Raptors style. New Orleans’ point guard Chris Paul was not shy expressing his thoughts concerning Utah’s move. The day after the trade, Paul tweeted:

What’s interesting about this comment is how I’ve never felt better about the Deron trade as I did while watching the Utah vs. New Orleans matchup earlier this week.  Although New Orleans is set to make the postseason, their playoff stint is expected to be brief and Paul’s departure from New Orleans will likely follow as his contract ends as Williams’ does after next season. And therein lies the irony; one of Utah’s largest critics of the trade comes from the voice (twitter account) of the next superstar waiting to bounce out of the Big Easy via free agency and leave his team with nothing. The trade was all about the future, and the future for the Jazz is promising. What’s the future like for the New Orleans Hornets? Only time will tell, but in my opinion, see Cleveland’s and Toronto’s.

I understand the season was frustrating. The team began the year with hopes to win the Western Conference, now they hope to win the lottery. Looking in the rearview mirror is hard on the eyes; the Jazz lost their best player, they lost as the Mailman would put it “ two head coaches”, and they had a losing record for just the second time in 28 seasons. But for a season that could go down as the worst mid-season collapse in NBA history, the future is somehow still bright for the Jazz. Nothing went as planned for them, and yet, I have no reason to doubt that the next 10 years will be better than the last 10 because of what happened this season. Kudos to Kevin O’Connor and the Jazz front office for being resilient and making the hard, yet right decision of trading Deron Williams and positioning this team for years to come. The drag of missing the playoffs is fortunately something Jazz fans are not too familiar with, but at the end of the day, I would rather be a loser than a hostage.

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23 Comments

  1. nosluffin says:

    As a less than rabid Jazz fan, I can say I DO appreciate character in our organization — character and integrity over the old-tired antics of money-makers.

  2. Andy Bailey says:

    I completely agree with you Nick. The Jazz could’ve hoped and prayed for a year and a half that Williams would stay, or they could be proactive and make something happen. I think they did the right thing.

    I don’t think they should stop dealing now either. Devin Harris or one of their two starting power forwards (Millsap and Jefferson) could be interesting trade chips this offseason.

    Very well written article!

    P.S. Do you think they’ll take Jimmer with that late lottery pick? If so, what would you think of that?

  3. getinthebackpaul says:

    My question is this, could we possibly have gotten more for D-Will? I love the fact that we did what took Denver all season in a matter of minutes, but what if we would have entertained offers from other teams as well? Look at Denver, their asses are a 5 seed… I love Ludacris and Fava Fave, but I would also enjoy the playoffs…

  4. u2despain says:

    It is so refreshing to read a positive article. After attending the last game of the season against Denver I truly believe we have the pieces for the future. The energy in the arena was playoff level atmosphere. Fans were excited seeing Hayward drop 34 and our other young pieces contributing. Thank you for pointing out the positives that lie ahead for this organization.

  5. Shake and Bake says:

    I also have come to like the trade the Jazz made. At first I thought it was crazy but the truth of the matter is they weren’t a true contender at the time and were eventially going to lose D-Will. It woulod have been a great trade had this upcoming draft been a little stronger. I’m predicting the Jazz pick up Kemba Walker and Jimmer in the draft both great college players but could struggle in the league.

  6. Kal says:

    Interesting take on the whole situation. It was surprise to see d-will leave, but I like the new additions to the Jazz and feel that there is a lot more energy on the court now. Gets me excited to see what will happen in the future for us. Wonderful article.

  7. Kyle Bolles says:

    THANK YOU! At times I feel like I am the only Jazz fan that see’s all of this as a good thing. When I first heard that the heart and brains of the Jazz were ripped out as if it were over night, I was devastated. “C’mon! Not another re-building phase”. But, now I realize that what we really did was speed up the inevitable. We struck first. You made a good point by saying this may have shaved 3 years off of the re-building years. I think you’re exactly right. Jazz fans need to get it up! They need to spread this positive view around town. As a Jazz fan I have learned not to give up. I am ready for next year so we can do it again.

  8. Eric Pfleger says:

    I thought you were a Laker fan? I used to always see you in a Shaq and Kobe jersey.

  9. Coach Haney says:

    Nice article Nick.

    I am glad you have chosen to pursue this, I remember in high school you saying you wanted to be a cheerleading coach. I’m glad you are writing about basketball opposed to making up cheers for basketball.

    Either way, I’ll always support you.

    Coach

  10. KJ47 says:

    It’s hard to believe how much things changed this year. The Jazz used to be the model for consistency in the NBA, but within two weeks almost everything that mattered was changed forever.

  11. mbeezy says:

    The Jazz definitely made a good decision by trading him and getting something back while they still could. In a few months the Hornets are going to wish they had done the same… Nice article!

  12. zach says:

    Nice article I definitely agree! It’s incredible really when you think about the position the jazz are in. They basically have turned Boozer (the trade exception we got), and dwill into Jefferson, Harris, Favors, $3 million, and four lottery picks, (assuming the jazz would have made the playoffs this year and next with deron), potential top 3 this year, and two of which will be in what looks to be a very strong draft next year.

    It sucks were not in the playoffs but I agree, the next 10 years look extremely bright!

  13. alex says:

    Regarding the comment about what else the Jazz could have gotten for the trade — it’s fun to speculate what would’ve happened if Utah had called up, say, the Lakers, and said you’ve got 10 minutes to make an offer. But the reality is, Utah got a good deal for a guy who 1: wasn’t going to stay in town, and 2: was getting unduly criticized for Sloan’s departure. As far as what Utah should do this off season, they’ve put themselves in a good position to get decent rather quickly. I love Millsap, the guy is a baller, but the truth is, unless he’s coming off the bench in the 4 spot, he’s not a PF, and any team where Millsap is your starting PF isn’t going to go too far in the playoffs. So, if he’s comfortable swinging between SF and PF, then maybe he should stick around, but if not, I think he’s a tradable asset. Also, CJ Miles had a few outstanding games this year, but as he goes so goes the rest of the team, and the truth is he hasn’t shown any sort of consistency, and it’s time for him to go. Favors and Haywood are both promising parts to wrap around Jefferson as the core for this team. I’d like to see AK47 re-signed for a fraction of what he’s making. I’d like to see Okur retire or traded. You can’t win in the playoffs without size and leadership, and Utah’s starting to realize that. Their talented players are getting taller, now they just need to bring in the right leadership to help these young kids develop and learn.

  14. Brad Neiger says:

    Great piece Nick. Keep on blogging my man. BLN

  15. Chelsea says:

    I was shocked when I heard that D Will was leaving, I think I may have cried. But after hearing what he said about his shaky future with the Nets, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. How about Derrik Favors coming in to play for the first time and in seconds runs up and dunks it! I couldn’t be more excited to see the Jazz future, and I am a proud Jazz fan. Nice job on the article.
    P.S. Do you have hope for Jimmer?!

  16. Lindsay says:

    Totally agree with you that we’d rather be in our position than New Orleans. I’d sacrifice the playoffs this year as an 8 seed with the chance of being a 3-5 seed and stronger contender next season. Jazz management knows what they are doing…

  17. Chuck D says:

    I guess I’m in the minority here but I don’t think KOC is all that bright when it comes to selecting first round picks. If I’m not mistaken, since 2000 none of our first round selections are still on the team. Anybody remember Kirk Snyder? Kosta Koufos? Mo Almond? Sasha Pavlovic? Raul Lopez? If we have another one of these types of KOC drafts, we won’t be much better than we are now. Building around draft picks and Al Jefferson is a rebuilding tactic that another team tried not too long ago and I don’t believe that worked out too well for them. If some of our players didn’t have such bloated contracts (AK, Memo) we could have resigned half the current Chicago Bulls roster and probably retained Dwill. It’s not just sacrificing the playoffs this year, Dwill is an amazing talent that won’t be easily replaced. Trading Dwill was like punting on third down because you’re afraid you’re going to fumble.

  18. B Wilde says:

    Well said Nick!!! You have put things into a positive perspective, and I couldn’t agree with you more. So excited for next year and to watch you on tv sitting 2nd row behind the basket!! Let’s hope for some luck come lottery time!!

  19. sillycels says:

    I suppose one could compare the Jazz’s past year to a forest fire. My environmentalist, Jazz-loving husband might say that although fire can destroy a lush forest, it also rids the environment of disease and leaves the forest floor super fertile and ripe for growth. Jerry was the old but healthy part of the Jazz forest … D Will was the disease.

    I’d totally rather be a loser than a hostage.

    Sweet article.

  20. Sherry says:

    Interesting analysis Nick! I like your optimism going forward. What do you think Kirilenko will do? I think the Jazz should pick Jimmer in the first round and feel he will live up to it just like Stockton did.

  21. Jesse says:

    I’d rather be Nick’s hostage, but…

    So, I like the optimism. Of course there is always the other side of the coin. Talent can and often does, in-fact, attract talent. There is always the possibility that D-Will could have attracted better players to Utah. We’ll never know. Still, could-a, should-a, would-a… those are not good words to live by. I have not been terribly impressed with KOC to date, but I have to respect this bold move of taking matters in to his own hands. Come what may.

    On a rainy day in Utah, Nick, your optimism shines like a burning sun on the distant horizon. Bring on the draft!

  22. JB says:

    Well I’m glad to say I to agree with this article and your view on all the franchise changing events that took place. I also had a hard time understanding after so many shocking changes, why get rid of the last bright spot in the line up? As everything unfolded it became quite clear what direction Keven O’conner and the Jazz wanted to go. Even if we are “rebuilding” I think we should all be grateful as Jazz fans to be rebuilding the way we are. Great Job Mr Nicholas Smith.. seriously Hell of a Job

  23. Dman says:

    Solid article. The Jazz future is indeed bright (see OKC Thunder). Those who criticize O’Connor need to remember that a first round pick in the 18-30 range (as the Jazz have had most of the last few decades) is much tougher to stick than a top 10 pick. D-will was a brilliant pick, and Hayward is looking better all the time. Many former Jazz picks are contributing with other teams…see Wes Matthews, Ronnie Brewer, Eric Maynor, Shandon Anderson, AK, etc. Have a little faith in one of the most consistent organizations in league history.

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