Utah Jazz: Williams an All-Star, at last
In the five years since he came to Utah as the heir apparent to John Stockton, Deron Williams has helped lead the Jazz to the Western Conference finals, not to mention two 50-win seasons and three playoff appearances.
He twice has played for USA Basketball, including as a member of the gold-medal winning Redeem Team at the 2008 Olympics, and will do so again this summer at the FIBA world championships in Turkey.
Williams was selected second-team All-NBA in 2007-08, has earned recognition as one of the NBA's top point guards and pre-eminent young talents, and signed a maximum-value contract extension in the summer of 2008.
Despite all those accomplishments, one thing seemed to annually elude Williams. He hadn't been selected to play in an All-Star Game, a wait that finally came to an end Thursday when Williams was announced as one of the Western Conference reserves.
"It's good for him," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said, "and I think in helping the team win, especially over the last 35 games, has meant something to the people voting."
No longer a victim of oversight and omission, Williams will make his All-Star debut on a monstrous stage in his hometown of Dallas. The game will be played Feb. 14 before a crowd of 85,000 or more at the new Cowboys Stadium.
"I think it'll be overwhelming for him as far as just the demands on his time," said Tommy Thomas, Williams' former high school coach and now one of his representatives. "Everyone that's ever known him is going to say that they had something to do with his success."
"It should be very rewarding for him because everything he's gotten, I truly believe he's earned every bit of it and more," Thomas added. "It's all through his work ethic and his self-sacrifice. I just think he deserves it all."
Williams was unavailable for comment Thursday as he was traveling to West Virginia to attend the funeral of an uncle.
The other six West reserves will be Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Brandon Roy, Zach Randolph and Chris Paul. Williams had been snubbed the previous three seasons before finally being voted in by the conference coaches.
Carlos Boozer, however, was not selected to what would have been his third All-Star Game despite averaging 19.2 points and 10.7 rebounds for a Jazz team steadily climbing the standings and having won eight of its last nine games.
"It's always tough at that position when you've got guys like [Tim] Duncan and Nowitzki. The margin gets slim," O'Connor said. "But we just think he's bounced back this year from last year and he's had a terrific year for us."
The Western Conference starters, announced last week, will be Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Duncan and Amare Stoudemire. Williams was selected ahead of Chauncey Billups, while Boozer lost out to Randolph and Gasol.
Thomas credited Williams with always prioritizing team success over individual recognition. Williams has been eclipsed by his teammates at every level -- from Bracey Wright in high school to Dee Brown at Illinois -- yet his career continues to reach new heights.
"One of his greatest gifts is the fact he makes people better around him," Thomas said, adding, "All those guys got theirs first, and that's because I think he's always put his teammates first."
As part of All-Star weekend, Williams has expressed interest in taking part in the Saturday night skills competition, which he won in 2008. Chicago's Derrick Rose and Milwaukee rookie Brandon Jennings are expected to be two of the four participants.
Williams' All-Star snubs had taken on a life of their own. He was passed over for Nash, Paul and Roy in 2008, then wasn't selected as a last-minute replacement with Bryant suffering an injured finger, despite being in New Orleans for the weekend.
The year before, Williams was passed over as an injury replacement after Nash and Allen Iverson pulled out. That night, Williams took out his frustration by scoring a career-high 33 points with 12 assists in a victory over Cleveland.
Williams was most resigned to his fate a year ago. After spraining his left ankle in the preseason, Williams missed 13 games and played at less than 100 percent for weeks after returning. Billups, Tony Parker and Roy were chosen ahead of him.
G » Deron Williams, Jazz
G » Chris Paul, Hornets
G » Brandon Roy, Blazers
F » Kevin Durant, Thunder
F » Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F » Zach Randolph, Grizzlies
F » Pau Gasol, Lakers
G » Rajon Rondo, Celtics
G » Derrick Rose, Bulls
G » Joe Johnson, Hawks
F » Paul Pierce, Celtics
F » Gerald Wallace, Bobcats
F » Chris Bosh, Raptors
C » Al Horford, Hawks
Passed over for the All-Star Game the previous three seasons, Deron Williams was selected for the first time Thursday:
|Year||City||Reserve guards chosen||D-Will's stats*|
|2007||Las Vegas||Tony Parker, Ray Allen||17.4, 9.2**|
|2008||N. Orleans||B. Roy, Steve Nash, Chris Paul||19.1, 9.7|
|2009||Phoenix||Roy, Parker, C. Billups||19.2, 10|
|Year||City||Williams chosen over||D-Will's stats*|
|2010||Dallas||Billups, A. Brooks, Monta Ellis||19, 9.5|
*Pre-All-Star break **Points, assists
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