DALLAS – This isn’t supposed to happen to the Utah Jazz.
In the span of 13 days, the league’s model of stability for two decades parted ways with Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Just like that, a team that looked every part a serious contender earlier this season — remember that November road sweep through Florida? — is possibly rebuilding.
Karl Malone and John Stockton are rolling over in their graves.
“I haven’t even gotten over Coach Sloan,” Jazz center Al Jefferson said, “so when they hit me with [the Williams trade], it was just like ‘wow,’ I was super surprised.”
Paul Millsap said the team was as caught off guard as the rest of the league was when the trade with New Jersey went down. The Jazz get back point guard Devin Harris, rookie lottery pick Derrick Favors and two first-round picks.
“It’s been crazy, a little weird,” Millsap admitted. “A lot of stuff we didn’t really expect to happen, it happened. Everybody was surprised by that. You never know what can happen in this league.”
That the Jazz rolled D-Will, one of the constants in the “best point guard in the league” debate, so quickly after many speculated he helped run Sloan out of town is noteworthy in itself. It didn’t help that Williams was critical of many of Utah’s cost-cutting moves of the last few years, so many speculated the front office was just getting rid of a locker room headache.
But closer to the truth is the economic realities of the day, namely making sure you don’t lose your best player for a bag of chips. Cleveland and Toronto didn’t learn that lesson in time. Denver did. And now Utah has lobbed the most extreme preemptive strike to date by trading away its face of the franchise more than a year before he potentially hits free agency.
Williams can opt out of his contract after next season to test the free-agency waters of 2012. While the Jazz could have conceivably waited until next season to trade or convince him to sign an extension, dealing D-Will now eliminates the guesswork. Who knows if there will even be a season and/or what the rules of the next CBA will be.
Jazz owner Greg Miller and general manager Kevin O’Connor decided to cash in now. Harris immediately steps in as Williams’ replacement and Favors is the power forward of the future. Harris and Favors aren’t Stockton-Malone or even Williams-Carlos Boozer. Not even close. But maybe it’s a start.
Still, seeing Williams depart was a shock.
“We’re disappointed. He was our friend. He’s a great player,” Millsap said. “There’s a time in life when things happen and you have to go our separate ways. Hopefully it works out for both parties.”
The Jazz also get two first-round picks in the deal — New Jersey (2011) and Golden State (2012) — to aid the refurbishing process. And the Jazz likely have more wheelin’ and dealin’ ahead. Andrei Kirilenko, Jefferson and even Millsap are being mentioned in trade chatter around the league.
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who’s dealt with the coaching change, a slew of injuries and today’s blockbuster trade. He isn’t sure if another trade is around the corner, but promises to be ready for it.
“It’s a business of change and abrupt changes, and when it happens the schedule don’t change,” Corbin said. “They don’t give you three, four days of practices to get ready. If the game is on the schedule that day, you play the game.”