When you think about the Utah Jazz, and their best players, invariably you think of John Stockton, Karl Malone, Pistol Pete Maravich, Mark Eaton, Adrian Dantley, and then end up in historical revisionist fantasy camp. We liked Al Jefferson better, but Carlos Boozer was superior in production. Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur were All-Stars, but didn't help the team get to the NBA Finals like Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell did. One name that is slightly overlooked is Deron Williams. Williams was the catalyst of several very dangerous Jazz teams, and at his best he was a transformational player who could take games over by himself, and change the direction of the franchise.
After all, he did it at least twice.
Williams' departure from the team happened around the same time: that Jerry Sloan retired (to say Williams pushed him out is to greatly exaggerate any individual player's influence over the very strong willed and tough former Bulls player); and the front office put up such a lugubrious show of support for Tyrone Corbin. Those three events are no doubt linked, but recency bias degrades just how important Deron was to our squad. As a legit All-NBA, All-Star, and Team USA player the Jazz franchise had a star; their first real one since Stockton and Malone. But how did the team get him? And how did the team get on after him? Let's look over how it all happened.
1. Sic Parvis Magna:
That's Sir Francis Drake's famous motto, loosely translated to "Thus great things from small things (come)." The Jazz were super lucky and took advantage of opportunity when they drafted John Stockton #16, and Karl Malone #13. You can't expect for lightning to strike three times (unless we're talking about Rudy Gobert). Utah had to find their next star, and it would have to be through the draft. And it was honestly a very long time coming.
A future 2nd round pick that would later become Ricky Minard is where it all begins. I don't know WHEN to put for the date here, because he was traded before the draft, but the date the Jazz record turned him into a #48 pick was decided AFTER he was traded. But like all legends, the real beginnings are shrouded in mystery.
Bereft of an actual star, the Jazz in the post-Stockton / Malone world didn't pay anyone like one. This allowed for the team to take advantage of other teams trying to dump some salary. Utah did this when they traded with the Sacramento Kings. For the petty price of a future 2nd rounder the Jazz received two 2nd rounders, and exciting, though truly troubled, bigman Keon Clark. Clark was a very impressive player with the Toronto Raptors, and a significant rotation player on their first playoff team. He wasn't so great here with the Jazz. But it's the future 2nd rounders that matter -- in particular, Luis Flores.
Getting assets in a salary dump happened the next month again as the team moved John Amaechi (who signed on as a free agent years before), the draft pick that would become Luis Flores, and a trade exception to the Houston Rockets. The bounty they received for it included Glen Rice, and two other future second rounds. One of them was equally as troubled as Keon Clark, Robert Whaley (aka Bobby Williams). The other was quite the character, and Acromegaliac, Pavel Podkilzine.
The Jazz bought out Glen Rice, and similarly got rid of Keon Clark. They would get another chance to buy out another player a few months after their last trade. They traded Carlos Arroyo to the Detroit Pistons for a future 1st rounder and Elden Campbell. Campbell was bought out. This is an interesting collection of "almost" Jazz players they traded for. But in reality, this is a more interesting collection of draft picks that all started with Ricky Minard and salary dumps.
Utah failed to do well in the lotto, going from the #3 seed to the #5 spot. Losing a lot of games (injuries to Kirilenko and Boozer) and getting a lot of picks meant that the Jazz now had a lot of stuff to use. And the time was right.
2. Moving up to get Deron Williams:
Hours before the draft the Jazz moved their three 1st rounders for one, one that the Portland Trail Blazers were lucky enough to get in the lotto. So long to Martell Webster, Linas Kleiza, and Joel Freeland . Hello to relevance!
If you compare the careers (Jazz career for D-Will, and full careers for the other guys) it's clear that we won this trade.
3. Moving on from Deron Williams:
While the Jazz moved from one future 2nd round pick (Minard), a number of salary dumps, and some bad seasons into a competitive team led by a new era-point guard . . . they had to move on as well. They should have started to rebuild the day they made the trade, instead of attempting to hold things together and waste three seasons. But hey, we all can't do everything right, all the time. The Jazz made a trade with the New Jersey Nets. And they flat out robbed them in hind-sight.
Deron Williams hasn't been the same player in Jersey that he was in Utah. He went from 17 ppg, 9 apg, 3 rpg, and 1 spg all the day down to 17ppg, 7 apg, 3 rpg, and 1 spg. That doesn't look that bad, but his shooting is way down, his advanced stats leave a lot to be desired. But more than numbers, the eye-ball test tells the tale. He doesn't take over games. He doesn't move the franchise forward. And he's no longer honestly in the discussion for best point guard in the league.
Since the trade the Utah Jazz have made it to the playoffs once. The Nets? Twice.
In return the Jazz received a future. Devin Harris couldn't hit a three, but hustled hard in the playoffs and did his best to earn the right to stay with the club. (He was later traded for Marvin Williams.) Derrick Favors is knocking on the door to being an All-Star right now. The future picks they received brought back two other young bigmen. Enes Kanter was an afterthought by the Jazz coaches despite being a #3 pick, but he's now a double double machine on a playoff team (but more on that later). The last pick became Gorgui Dieng, a defensive beast in the making. But he, like Kanter, are no longer here.
4. Aftershock moves:
The Jazz have made two big moves since the Deron Williams trade, moving Kanter and Dieng.
The Jazz found a willing trade partner with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and moved the two picks (#14 Shabazz Muhammad and #21 Gorgui Dieng) for Trey Burke, up at #9. I am biased, but even with the poor shooting and lack of defensive tenacity, I feel like Burke is the best player in this trade. He was the best player the day before the draft. He was the best player on draft night in this trade. And he will prove it over his NBA career as well.
Utah was once again forced into moving a player, this time Enes Kanter. Win him they sent Steve Novak and good will to the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Novak was traded for earlier this season but no need to bring him up that much. Aka. I forgot to detail how we got him in that Diante Garrett trade that brought the Jazz back another 1st rounder) Utah got Kendrick Perkins, and like Elden, Glen, and others, was bought out. Utah also received rookie Grant Jerrett, and the rights to Tibor Pleiss. I don't expect either of them to be game changers at the NBA level, but Utah did get back another 2nd round pick, and a future 1st (that defaults into two 2nd round picks after a few years).
A second round pick isn't much. But if this step-by-step history shows, great things come from small beginnings. A few bad seasons, cap space, and Ricky Minard got the Jazz Deron Williams. Williams powered the Jazz to the playoffs in his second season in the NBA, became a house hold name, and one of the best at his position in the entire world. Utah won a lot of games, then moved him and got many of the fundamental parts for their future.
Deron's place in the Jazz history books are guaranteed with his numbers, and the wins he helped the team get. Utah's last Western Conference Finals appearance wasn't with John and Karl, but it was a product of Deron's great play. And he will be remembered for that. He should also be remembered for being a franchise direction changing guard, whom the Jazz got through smart moves and biding their time.
Hand-me-downs and cast-away parts were transmuted into an All-NBA talent. And while the Jazz are doing the same thing again, getting salary dumps and future picks while keeping a lot of cap space on hand for a rainy day, I wouldn't put it against our squad picking up yet ANOTHER great player. This next prince who is promised will be someone no one guessed the team would have been able to get, in order to support Gordon Hayward, Favors, Gobert, Dante Exum, Burke, and others. It's the long play. And the Jazz, knowing that lightning doesn't strike twice, figured out how to best maximize their future draft yields.
After all, the Jazz are run by smart people. It was some Game of Thrones level *ish to keep Tyrone Corbin for so long, only to drop him through the Moon door at the right time. Deron Williams is a huge part of Utah Jazz history. And history tells us that the Utah Jazz are really thinking ahead. You'd be a fool to bet against them making the Western Conference Finals again in the next decade. Or sooner.