How did we get here? This Jazz season has truly turned into one long episode of the Twilight Zone. Nothing would be surprising anymore. Raja Bell traded for Ricky Rubio? Not surprising. Paul Millsap given away to the Kings. Not one eyebrow raised. Andrei Kirilenko is an alien? I'll buy that. Before the season started Jerry Sloan retiring and Deron Williams being traded were both in the "Not ever going to happen" categories, but here we are.
Like a thief in the night, the Jazz quietly crept in and left a little surprise for the NBA world in the form of a Deron Williams trade. Some Jazz fans will be pleased. Others are cursing the name of everyone left in the Jazz front office. But however, you feel about this trade, just know one thing. This move was a power move. Negotiating power has slowly shifted over to the players as the CBA has crept closer and closer to its end and today's trade was the Jazz saying, "teams, and especially small market teams, are going to take the power back."
When the current CBA was negotiated 10 years ago, there were incentives included that would help teams, especially small market teams keep their best players. These incentives included higher payscales and Bird Rights that allowed teams to exceed the salary cap in order to resign their favorite players. For most of the last decade it worked. Teams were able to offer their stars more money and it kept a lot of up and coming rookies on their current squads. But then 3 things happened that lead the Jazz to their decision today:
1) Players started holding the front office of their teams accountable by signing shorter long-term contracts with opt out years. Without saying it, star players told their owners, "you better put a championship team around me or else I'm opting out and leaving. You have 3 years." Or 2 years, or whatever. Lebron did it. Dwyane Wade did it. Chris Paul did it. Deron Williams did it.
2) James, Wade, and Chris Bosh took small paycuts to be able to play together. Sure it was only a few million dollars off mega million dollar deals, but it was the first time that star players in their prime took paycuts in order to circumnavigate the salary cap rules and play together. Vets had taken less money to play for contenders before, but never star players in their prime. The Celtics had paved the way for superteams, but they did it by acquiring stars that were owed favors by organizations they had given so much too. There were no hard feelings from Minnesota or Sonic fans towards Garnett and Allen that I could see. In general those fans were glad to pay back veterans that had given so much and glad to see them get their elusive rings. But as soon as James and Bosh gave the middle finger to the CBA and to their former franchises, it became okay to do so. It became the thing to do, actually.
3) Carmelo Anthony saw what his peers had in Miami and decided he wanted to orchestrate a move to his preferred destination. The Nuggets were handcuffed in who they could negotiate with. All Melo had to do was say, "I'm not signing an extension with that team" and the Nuggets could no longer trade him there. It left the Nuggets with two options: trade Melo to whatever team he wanted and on their terms, or else risk letting him walk with nothing in return. This is the position the Jazz could have been placed in a year's time.
And so the Jazz did something about it. They exercised their muscles before their star player was able to. It was a bold and risky move. But it also was fair warning to all the star players of the league that think they have the power.
Before I go any further, I need to explain that I don't fully blame Deron Williams for this. I love Deron Williams. He will always be one of my favorite players in the NBA and he played his hardest every night he was in a Jazz uniform. He was part of a lot of successes. He made the Jazz a much better team than they would have been without him. It seems a little bit cruel of the Jazz to trade Deron Williams, especially to a team he probably didn't want to be traded to. I believe Deron when he says that it wasn't what he wanted. But Deron is part of the culture of the NBA that has changed in the last 3 years. If he is mad at how things panned out, he need only blame his peers and, to a degree, himself.
Deron brought a lot of this on himself by holding the front office's collective feet to the fire. Every time Deron said something like "that's why I signed a three year deal" or "we're a playoff team, not a championship team" he was pressuring the Jazz organization to help him win a championship. But Deron was also not committing himself to the team and the Jazz front office, finally said, "enough is enough." The thing about star players, including Deron, is that they feel entitled. They feel they are owed the best chance to win a title and that if they don't win a title, it is the fault of the organization and not theirs. But winning isn't a right, it is a privilege and a reward for hard work and effort and often a bit of luck. Deron will learn this, either today or after a long career that most likely won't have a title on its resume.
All Deron had to do was talk with the organization. He needed to pledge his allegiance to the team, the organization and the state of Utah. Deron always spoke well of the state and the team, but he also never gave fans any indication that he would be here past 2012. I'm guessing he also gave the owners and the front office no indication. Good relationships are built on mutual respect and giving. When one part of a relationship is mostly taking, the relationship will fail every time. The Jazz had shown Deron that they were at least willing to try to build a contender by making the moves they made this offseason. It didn't pan out. The Jazz weren't going to win a title this year or next and this was going to lead to Deron distancing himself more and more from the organization with talk of wanting to win championships. The Jazz avoided that. They tried hard to help Deron win a title, but the team had really run out of resources to do so. No conceivable move was going to propel the current Jazz team to championship level and any honest Jazz fan will admit this upon reflection.
There was a commenter on this site from another small market team that was angry with the Jazz organization. He (or she) said that the Jazz were speeding up the process of the large market teams overtaking the small market teams. I disagree. What the Jazz just did was send a message to all franchise players of small market teams. Deron has learned it and now others will remember it. "If you want us to commit to you and help you win a title, you have to commit to us or else we might just trade you wherever we want to without notice." It seems sort of mean but it was a hell of a lot nicer than what Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony did to their respective franchises. If Deron is upset, he should call those guys and bitch them out. To steal a phrase: Blame the game, not the players. It goes both ways.