[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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