Utah Jazz: Deron Williams excited to return to Utah with Nets
Denver • Deron Williams remembers.
When Carlos Boozer returned to Utah last February, he was jeered mercilessly by the fans he had delighted, frustrated, entertained and annoyed during six enigmatic seasons with the Jazz.
In Boozer's homecoming game as a member of the Chicago Bulls, the familiar chants of "Booz" turned to a disgusted chorus of "boos" that resonated through EnergySolutions Arena.
As a result of that experience, Williams is uncertain what kind of reception to expect Saturday night, when he returns to Utah for the first time since being traded to the New Jersey Nets.
Will the fans remember his undeniable contribution while the franchise transitioned from the Stockton-Malone Era without plummeting to rock-bottom?
Or will Utahns remember the controversial end to his run with the Jazz, which will be forever linked with Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan's resignation just two weeks before the trade?
"I don't know," Williams said. "Probably mixed. We'll see. It will be interesting. But I don't think it will be as bad as Booz.
"There are still a lot of people there who like me there a lot of fans, a lot of people on Twitter saying they wish I was still there."
Prior to New Jersey's 123-115 loss at Denver on Wednesday night, Williams expressed excitement not trepidation about facing the team he quarterbacked to the 2007 Western Conference finals.
"Of course," he said. "I get to go back where I spent the first part of my career where I got my first chance, my first opportunity and my first big contract. So I owe them a lot. Looking forward to it."
It could be a Boozer-like return.
When Sloan resigned, he cited fatigue after 23 years as the Jazz's head coach.
Many believe, however, that a deteriorating relationship with Williams caused the weariness that made a basketball lifer walk away in the middle of the season.
Williams has always downplayed his role in Sloan's decision and continues to do so.
"I had a great 51/2 years there," he said. "Definitely some bumps along the way, just like you have with any franchise. But ..."
One thing is clear.
The Jazz didn't hesitate to trade Williams when it became obvious at least in management's mind that he was planning to leave when his contract expired.
So instead of allowing Williams to do what LeBron James did in Miami and bolt without compensation, the Jazz traded him.
When they did, Williams instantly joined the likes of Adrian Dantley, Greg Ostertag, Andrei Kirilenko and Boozer as one of the most polarizing players in franchise history.
His memory of the experience?
"I had a great time playing there," he said.
In New Jersey, Williams averages 16.9 points and 8.2 assists. He is clearly the Nets' leader, even though he is shooting only 35 percent partly because defenses don't have many other concerns against the Nets.
"He's kind of like our team," said coach Avery Johnson. "He hasn't played his best."
Mehmet Okur, a teammate in Utah and New Jersey, defends Williams.
"I think D-Will is playing pretty good," he said. "He's our best player. He plays hard night in and night out, just like always."
Still, Williams needs help. It's obvious. Before the Denver game, the Nuggets' defensive strategy was written on an eraser board in the locker room.
It read, "No. 1 priority, D-Will."
"Don't let D-Will get the ball."
Of course, one of Williams' concerns about continuing his career in Utah was whether management truly wanted to compete for a championship. When he joined the Nets, Williams told the New York Post the Jazz "were a good team" but "never did anything that was significant" to upgrade their roster.
"And it frustrated me," he told the paper.
This season, New Jersey isn't even a good team, which fuels speculation about Williams' future with a franchise that moves to Brooklyn next year. But he shrugs off questions about the possibility of opting out of his contract and moving along.
"I play for the New Jersey Nets, the last time I checked," he said. "... The organization is great. I'm enjoying my time here. Just want to get on the winning track."
Neither Okur nor Johnson believes Williams' situation has been a distraction.
"Hopefully," Okur said, "he stays here and I'll be able to play with him a long time. We'll see what happens this summer."
Said Johnson: "No, no, not at all. We want him to opt out. It's the best thing for him and his family.
"He'll get more money that way. Just opt out and, hopefully, re-sign with us the minute after July 1. Don't go on any recruiting trips."
Got the Memo
Denver • Slowly, Mehmet Okur is coming to terms with the idea of playing for a team other than the Jazz.
After seven seasons in Utah, the popular Okur was traded to New Jersey for a second-round draft pick just before Christmas. With the Jazz, Okur was a valued interior player on defense and a deadly perimeter threat on offense.
He helped Utah reach the 2007 Western Conference finals, after playing in his first and only All-Star Game.
In New Jersey, Okur has shown signs of rustiness after playing only 13 games last year while recuperating from Achilles surgery. In nine games, he averages four points and two rebounds, although he's shooting 37.8 percent on 3-pointers.
"I had a rough start the first couple of games," Okur said. "I wanted to fit in and see what's going on. So a tough first couple of games, but it's a lot better now."
Despite the Jazz's logjam of young inside players and the Nets' need for size after a foot injury to center Brook Lopez, Okur was "shocked" by the trade.
"It's just business," he said. "I'm experienced enough to realize what's going on and what was going on. To be honest, I was a little shocked and surprised because I've never been traded before in my life. So I didn't know what was the feeling. But I had to let it go and move on."
Okur calls his time in Utah "seven good years. A lot of memories. I played with a lot of good players, good friends and good coaches."
Okur is one of five former Jazz players who will return to EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday night, when Utah plays New Jersey. The list also includes Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, Sundiata Gaines and DeShawn Stevenson.
What kind of reception is Okur expecting?
"I have never thought about it," he said. "I mean, whatever. I just want to be out there and play and win the game."
A closer look
Five former Jazz players are members of the New Jersey Nets. Here are their statistics while they were in Utah:
Player Seasons Gms Pts Reb Ast
Sundiata Gaines 2009-10 32 3.3 0.9 1.2
Kris Humphries 2004-06 129 3.6 2.7 0.6
Mehmet Okur 2004-11 474 15.3 7.6 1.9
DeShawn Stevenson 2000-04 222 5.9 1.9 1.2
Deron Williams 2005-11 439 17.3 3.2 9.1