Right now all the SBN NBA Blogs are writing about the best trades ever in franchise history. This is somewhat similar to what we did last week with our #CultClassic players. Over the last few days we've been looking at the trades that the Utah Jazz have made. We did figure out that sometimes trades don't make sense; and that other times, what you put into a trade may later on down the line provide you with a player of greater or lesser value. More than anything we recently did a poll to see how you felt about the Top Trades in Jazz history. And you know what? Right now there's a 189-187 lead in a poll that has over 600 respondents. That means there's a tie at 31% for both the trade to bring in Jeff Hornacek, and the trade to bring in Deron Williams. So you get two #NBABestTradeEver posts today, one for each amazing trade.
So, here's part 2 -- Deron Williams
The Jazz Before the Trade:
in 2004-05 John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, and Bryon Russell were all gone - those were 4 of the 5 starters for the Jazz from the NBA Finals years. Even Greg Ostertag was gone, but the Jazz would trade for him back in the next off-season. The Glory Days were over, and rebuilding had to begin. Things started off surprisingly well in the first Post-Stockton and Malone year. In 2003-04 the Jazz won 42, and missed the playoffs by a hair. As a point of contrast, the season right before was led by two HOFers and won only 47 games. Larry H. Miller put his money where his mouth was, and after the '03-04 season showed Carlos Arroyo ($16m / 4), Gordan Giricek ($16m / 4), Mehmet Okur (had to overpay as a RFA), Carlos Boozer (a randsom), and Andrei Kirilenko (the GDP of Middle Earth) the money. And you know what? That team won 26 games. Sure, missing Boozer and Kirilenko for the majority of the season will hurt any team. But THIS team was leaderless. The point guard play (Carlos Arroyo, Keith McLeod, Howard Eisley, Randy Livingston, and Raul Lopez) was so messed up the EPA was sent in a few times during the season by the Federal Government. Moreover, the Utah Jazz were no longer the Utah Jazz that people recognized.
The Jazz were known for a) always making the playoffs, and b) very strong point guard play. Missing the playoffs for a second straight year and having to start five different point guards during a season were just things the Jazz franchise did not do -- yet were forced to do.
Things needed to change.
The Jazz had no point guard, and the entire offense revolves around a smart, strong, leader at the 1 spot. A strong PG could still have coaxed wins with two starters out for most of the season. Without the artificial crutch of Boozer and AK the problem was highlighted. (As an aside, if those two were healthy in '04-05 we would have tread water, and probably tried to get far in life with Arroyo as our starter -- instead of needing to take drastic action to get better ASAP.) Rickey Green --> John Stockton --> ?
The Jazz needed to find the answer. The Jazz were going to have a lot of ping-pong balls in this draft because they managed to win only 26 games. And this draft class featured Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Jarrett Jack, Monta Ellis, Roko Ukic, Martynas Andriuskevicius, and Louis Williams. Back in the Summer of 2005 we had no idea who out of that group would have been great (though we had ideas), and all of them were capable - even extraordinary at certain things - players. Provided the Lotto went according to play the Jazz would have a good pick as none of the PGs were projected to go #1. According to the records the Jazz should have drafted no lower than #4. Of course, because we can't have nice things, both the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers had ping-pong balls that leap frogged over us. The Jazz were now sitting in the #6 spot - and surely would have lost out on getting either Chis Paul or Deron Williams. Because the Jazz draft philosophy is "Best Player Ever - unless there's a goofy center on the board" they wouldn't have taken a PG #6, and the Jazz problems would have continued next season. Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor ended up with the #6 pick and said 'DoNotWant' and it was up to him to fix it. The Jazz future depended on it.
Hours before the 2005 NBA Draft (well, maybe like a day before, but it did not become official until hours before it started) the Jazz made a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, who owned the #3 pick in the draft. Portland traded that pick to the Jazz, but the Jazz had to give the Blazers THREE FIRST ROUND PICKS for it. One of the picks was the Jazz' own lottery pick (1st round, #6), another was another pick in the same draft (1st round, #27), and the last was a first round pick the next season (1st round, #30). I honestly can't believe the Blazers made this trade as they could have easily seen the #3 pick has more inherent value than a middle lotto pick and two "almost 2nd rounders". Of course, who knew the Jazz would almost make the playoffs the next season . . . ? Still - I think the Jazz fleeced the Blazers here.
Usually the team that gets three 1st rounders for one 1st rounder wins. But looking at who the Blazers picked with those draft picks makes it almost unnecessary to even break this trade down.
Uh, yeah . . . . the Jazz really needed a starter at the PG spot, and got a pick where they had the opportunity (due to how the draft shook out) to take either Chris Paul (the next Isiah Thomas), or Deron Williams (a bigger, stronger Kevin Johnson). Portland in return took:
- Martell Webster - basically C.J. Miles, but with a more expensive Lottery contract,
- Linas Kleiza - who was traded on draft night for a guy 5 spots higher (Jarrett Jack),
- and Joel Freeland - who has yet to step onto American soil (but he did play okay for the UK in the 2012 Olympics)
Deron Williams is a multiple time All-Star, multiple time All-NBA player, and has represented the USA and won Gold in two Olympics. He immediately became the leader of the team, even if Jerry Sloan made him come off the bench early in his rookie year. And he almost took that same team that won 26 games the season before to the playoffs as a rookie. He is still regarded as one of the Top 2 or 3 point guards in the NBA -- while Webster and Kleiza currently do not even have contracts to play in the NBA this next year. Joel Freeland signed a 3 year deal this off-season though. So, yeah. The Jazz won this trade. Bigtime.
The Jazz After the Trade:
The Jazz missed the playoffs by a game in Deron's rookie season. And then went on to go to the NBA Playoffs four straight times - bouncing out of the first round only once, and bouncing out of the first round at the same rate as they went to the Western Conference Finals. During his reign the Jazz won playoff series against the Houston Rockets twice (including a Game 7 road win), Golden State Warriors, and Denver Nuggets. Three of those four wins were without home court. The Jazz were not able to defeat the San Antonio Spurs at their peak, nor the Los Angeles Lakers -- but to be fair, only the Boston Celtics were able to beat one of those teams in those four playoffs. So the Jazz under D-Will did have four playoff runs, and did not win the title in any of them. But the team that eliminated them won the title 3 out of 4 times, and won the Western Conference 4 out of 4 times. Our teams just looked disproportionally bad because in two of the three times we faced the Lakers in the playoffs injuries had removed two of the Jazz' starters from the equation. The single time the Jazz played the Lakers at full-strength the Jazz took it to 6 out of a maximum 7 games. The Jazz elected to disassemble that core and have since moved in another, non-Deron Williams led, direction in 2010-11. Kevin O'Connor moved Deron for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and two lottery picks (one was realized as the #3 pick in the 2011 NBA draft - Enes Kanter).
Portland, well, Portland did nothing in the playoffs since becoming a footnote as a team that gave up a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter of a WCF game to the eventual three-peat Lakers. You know, back during Al Gore's presidency.
The Jazz could have been an irrelevant franchise for a decade after the Stockton and Malone years. Really, look at what happened to the Chicago Bulls - our foes from those finals years - after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen left. Really, look at what the Bulls did: they missed the playoffs 6 years in a row and won ONE playoff series in the 10 years after their last title. Chicago survived because they got lucky in the draft. The Jazz were not so lucky in the draft, and made smart moves to make sure that they were not relegated to the pathetic status of so many other teams, after their core retires or moves on.
Without this trade the Jazz don't become contenders again - even if the Jazz were contenders for 1/5th as long as the previous era of contention lasted. While Jeff Hornacek took the Jazz from the middle of the playoffs to the NBA finals, Deron Williams took the Jazz from the middle of the lottery to the second round of the playoffs every year (on average). Both are super important in the history of our franchise. Yes, Deron's Jazz were never able to get home court at the level we'd want - a few more wins here or there would have prevented drawing the Lakers all the time. Doing that could have meant more WCF appearances for the D-Will Jazz, and maybe an NBA Finals appearance if we got lucky. We did not climb as high with Deron on the team as we did in the Golden Age - but that wasn't on him. I think our defense inside was the problem, which compounded by injuries (and later attrition in free agency) doomed this core more than any one thing Deron did or did not do.
Deron Williams remains one of the most popular players in Jazz History:
Even if he gets crazy boos . . .
Deron was awesome enough to actually help us win games in the playoffs. That's huge. He also tried to bring free agents here, but he couldn't. He lived in Utah all year round. And he always took it to Chris Paul head-to-head. He dunked, he hit threes, he broke ankles, and he made us smile and cheer. Now we boo.
Let's get back to cheering!
A true leader. BEST.TRADE.EVER.