NBA: Who's best? Debate still links Paul, Williams
One day before their first reunion of the new season, I walked up to Jazz point guard Deron Williams as he prepared for practice and asked a question about his rivalry - real or imagined - with New Orleans' Chris Paul.
Or was it a half-frown?
Either way, I quickly realized that Williams thinks his "rivalry" with Paul is a nonissue - a creation of the media, by the media, for the media.
"You need some new material," he said.
I agreed, but again asked him about Paul, proving once and for all that I pay more attention to what my editor wants than to what Deron Williams prefers.
Williams politely answered my questions, sounding absolutely sincere in his praise of Paul and describing their relationship as a friendship, not a rivalry.
Unfortunately for Williams and Paul, their names - and their games - will be compared forever because of circumstance.
In the 2005 draft, the Jazz desperately needed a point guard. Raul Lopez's bad knee, Carlos Arroyo's bad attitude and the general limitations of hard-working Keith McLeod forced Utah's hand.
The good news?
If the ping-pong balls dropped according to the odds, the Jazz would pick no worse than fourth and be assured of getting one of the draft's top point guards - Williams, Paul or Raymond Felton.
After being unlucky in the draw for lottery position, however, the Jazz were forced to trade up from No. 6 to No. 3 for a chance to pick one of the draft's premier quarterbacks.
A deal with Portland gave Utah its choice: Williams, Paul or Felton?
The Jazz took Williams over Paul, who went to New Orleans at No. 4. Felton dropped to Charlotte at No. 5.
Utah's decision, based on Williams' size, an excellent predraft interview with Jazz management and a closer-to-the-floor style of play that could translate into longevity, triggered a debate that will follow these two young stars for the rest of their careers.
Williams or Paul?
For awhile, it was like asking, "Who's better, Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Abraham Lincoln or FDR? Ginger or Mary Ann?"
Call it the eye of the beholder.
In their first season, Paul played beyond his years and was the rightful Rookie of the Year.
Last season, Williams flourished and the Jazz went to the Western Conference finals.
This season, New Orleans and Utah are winning while Paul made the All-Star team and Williams easily could have, as the Knicks discovered Wednesday night,
After Williams had 22 points and 12 assists in Utah's 100-89 win, New York coach Isiah Thomas said: "Coach [Jerry] Sloan and Deron, I think those two are definitely on the same page. He runs their offense. He runs their sets. Coach, I think, was pretty hard on him his first year. But he's really, really good. He's as special a player as we have in our league and he's just going to keep getting better and better. He's a joy to watch, but he's hell to play and coach against."
With that in mind, I submit that it's time for the Williams-Paul comparisons to stop. They have outgrown this debate. In 2 1/2 seasons, they have carved out a personalized niche in the NBA that assures the competitiveness of their teams and overtime for their tax accountants.
Let me put it another way:
I'm certain that the Jazz - if they had the chance - would not trade Williams for Paul. I'm just as certain New Orleans would trade not Paul for Williams.
So why continue to compare?
* STEVE LUHM
is The Tribune's national NBA
writer. He can be reached at email@example.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor