This is like Wife Swap only with NBA teams and Ben’s broken heart.
The consolation notes and texts have been pouring in already. “Sorry about Deron Williams :(,” my brother Dan texted. “Just know that I’m thinking about you during this trying time. Enjoy Devin Harris! He’s at least a B-. That’s something, right?” Matthew Leathers commented. “Have fun storming the castle!” Billy Crystal and his hag wife added.
(Not everyone was so supportive. Michael Link, a deluded and bitter Knicks fan, left me a voice mail that said, “Think of your loss as Jay Z’s gain.”)
Deron Williams is clearly the best player in the deal that sends Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and New Jersey’s 2011 first round pick (plus Golden State’s 2012 first round pick) to Utah in return for the All-Star point guard. And any time you give up the best player in a deal, that’s not a good thing.
I want to tell myself that this is a savvy preemptive strike. As I told my good friend and fellow NBA junkie Scott Guldin the other night, I couldn’t see Deron Williams re-signing with the Jazz next summer when he becomes a free agent. Utah GM Kevin O’Connor probably figured as much. From that vantage point, Utah got a pretty good deal, especially the Nets’ first-rounder. (New Jersey, at 17-40, is the sixth worst team in the league right now.)
I’ve always had a soft spot for Devin Harris — more so when he was a Mav than a Net. And the guy’s only two years removed from being an All-Star. He can’t have fallen off that much, right? Right? (This is not a rhetorical question. I haven’t watched the Nets play since the Kenny Anderson/Derrick Coleman days, when I hated them with a rich, condescending superiority because Anderson/Coleman was like an awful, straight-to-DVD version of Stockton/Malone.)
And Derrick Favors was the third pick in the 2010 draft. Three’s pretty high! And he’s only 19! Give that guy some time and he could tear it up, right? Right? (Again, not a rhetorical question. See above note.)
I hate Carmelo Anthony. Because without his season-long prima donna act where he held the good people of Denver captive to his ego, I don’t think Utah panics or Williams has the same leverage. So thanks, Carmelo. Can’t wait to see you take the Knicks to the playoffs for seven straight years and only manage to get out of the first round once.
Here’s how I really feel: Williams has a great career ahead of him. Devin Harris does not. I don’t think Derrick Favors does either. This isn’t a strong draft coming up, so I can’t see Utah getting a major talent unless it miraculously gets the first or second pick. And Golden State could be turning around, so by 2012 its pick may not even be a lottery one.
The sad truth about a pro basketball franchise in Salt Lake City is that most NBA players will never want to play there. Jazz fans were spoiled by Stockton and Malone, two of the NBA’s greatest, both playing virtually their entire careers deep in Mormon country. That’s never going to happen again. Utah will never sign the big name free agents; it has to assemble a solid cast of players around one or two very good if not great players to remain competitive. Deron Williams is a great player. Maybe he wouldn’t have extended his contract in Utah. But breaking up still sucks even if you’re the one to do it first.
AN UPDATE WITH FURTHER DESPONDENT THOUGHTS: In his annual NBA Trade Value column, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons ranks Deron Williams #11, meaning there were only ten players in the entire league he considered more untouchable than D-Will. Let me spare you the suspense: Devin Harris and Derrick Favors were not two of them. (Nor was New Jersey’s 2011 first round pick.)
Favors, incidentally, was tied for #49 with Brook Lopez. This is what Simmons said:
It’s all about Favors having an “NBA body” right now; we’re not allowed to rush to a final judgment even though a 19-year-old lottery pick is forgettable night after night after night in a Kwame-ish way. I caught him twice in person: He bombed the “If I’m Seeing You Live, No Matter How Young You Are, I Shouldn’t Be Able to Zone Out And Forget That You’re Allegedly Doing Your Specialty In Front Of Me” test. (Important note: Same goes for Broadway actors, musicians, belly dancers, comedians, politicians and chefs at those Japanese restaurants at which they cook for 10-12 people at a time.) It’s not like he’s any younger than DeMarcus Cousins. Shouldn’t Favors be showing something by now?