SALT LAKE CITY — During this election season, there won't be strategically placed placards or billboards campaigning for Deron Williams to be voted in as Utah Jazz team captain.
You won't have to watch TV ads of Williams boasting about being an All-Star or a gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympian. Don't expect mudslinging about potential longshots. "Say Nyet to A.K. 47!" and "Don't Ring This Bell!" slogans will not emerge from his camp.
Williams won't be making grandiose promises, either.
But Jerry Sloan does endorse this candidate and his message.
Considering the Jazz coach is the only one with a vote in this non-political process, that's a strong indicator Williams will formally be named captain once again.
"He'll probably be considered," a grinning Sloan recently joked.
Of course, Williams' Jazz teammates don't need an election to know who's hoisting the leadership mantle for the team heading into the 2010-11 NBA season.
"It's clear," swingman C.J. Miles said, "who our leader and captain is."
So clear, in fact, the sixth-year pro didn't even mention Williams' name, yet it was still obvious that he was talking about his Dallas pal.
Williams is the one who's setting the tone for this symphony of NBA talent.
"That's his job," Miles added.
Even a 20-year-old rookie picked up on that crystal-clear fact.
"I think D-Will, in my eyes, would be the leader," rookie Gordon Hayward said early on in fall camp. "You need someone that's going to push everyone and make sure everyone's going hard, kind of hold people accountable. He definitely does that and makes sure everyone's doing their job."
Williams has shared these responsibilities for the past couple of years with former co-captain Carlos Boozer, and he embraces the role that has evolved into him becoming the go-to guy when it comes to leadership.
Not that he plans on doing anything differently.
"I'm going to do the same thing I did when he was here: play hard every night, keep the team together, be an extension of coach on the floor," Williams said. "It doesn't really change."
Others on this Jazz team will help carry weight, but most of the burden of helping a mixture of new and old jell well rests on the shoulders of the guy sporting the No. 8 jersey.
Williams knows, even relishes, that fact of Jazz locker room life.
"It's definitely my job to keep this team together, keep 'em focused every night, night in and night out," Williams said. "I think I need to do a better job of that."
That, Williams pointed out, will help the Jazz beat teams they're supposed to beat. On the opposite end of the letdown spectrum, it also will help them realize their potential against the NBA's upper-echelon. They are one of the best teams, he said, so they should believe that they can beat the rest of the best.
Accomplishing consistent, positive results against everybody from Minnesota to Miami will take a team effort, Williams acknowledges. But the success or possible setbacks start with him.
That's why Williams got on the phone with Al Jefferson shortly after the Jazz traded for the center and told the new big man in town that he was going to help make him an All-Star.
That's why Williams asked Raja Bell, a well-traveled defensive wizard, to take Miles under his wing at the beginning of fall camp and help him fortify his defense.
That's why Williams has reached out to newcomers in practices this preseason and why he's spreading an optimistic message to the media and why he plays so hard.
Williams doesn't just want to lead.
He wants to win.
Even so, Williams has to walk a fine line between being a fierce competitor who expects and demands the best out of himself and teammates and being a team leader who inspires guys instead of alienating them by harping too much or by fuming, visibly or verbally, when things go wrong.
"Just like a coach, you've got to find that balance," former Jazz standout and current special assistant Jeff Hornacek said. "If you're yelling and screaming at guys all of the time, guys aren't going to respond to that. But if you're leading by example and then all of a sudden you get on somebody, they'll probably respond.
"I think Deron's done a good job of figuring out that balance, and not going overboard. ... Teammates are always supposed to push each other and try to make them do their best, and Deron will do that."
Though Williams isn't one to constantly bite his tongue, it isn't his gift of gab that has helped him vault into a position of power. It's the combination of his relentless inner-drive, his ever-improving skill set as arguably the best point guard in the game, his knowledge of basketball and his Sloan-approved work ethic.
"He's capable of being a great leader because he's got a lot of different things that he can do," the coach said. "I think that leadership kind of comes with experience."
Williams' track record has helped him earn something vital along with that seasoning. Hayward noticed it right from the get-go.
Williams has bona fide credibility as a big-time player.
"It's a respect level. Everyone respects him," Hayward said. "And when you have that higher respect, you just naturally follow them."
Sloan is more impressed by leaders who lead by action, rather than by words.
Consider that Reason No. 1,235,930 why he loves the guy with whom he entered the Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
"The word 'leadership' was hardly mentioned by John Stockton when he was here. He just played basketball," Sloan said of a guy he thought highly of both as a player and leader. "It wasn't a matter of (Stockton saying), 'Hey, I'm leading the team.' He went out to play every day, and that's what anybody has to do. They have to do their job well and when they do people pick up on that."
Sloan would prefer if his leaders left the ranting and raving and gum-flapping to sports-talk media types.
"Being vocal doesn't mean that you lead," the Jazz coach said. "A lot of guys talk, but that doesn't mean you get anything done when you get out on the floor."
Speaking of Williams, Sloan added: "He's got to play, that's what leaders do. You've got to do your job every day. And when you do that, players fall in line with it."
Rank and file. Like good soldiers following Gen. Williams.
Like players did when Stockton was around. Even though Karl Malone was more willing to vocalize his leadership — ask Greg Ostertag how Malone responds to players coming to camp overweight — Hornacek said The Mailman did most of his leading by example as well.
"Guys are going to look at him and watch how he plays and see how hard he plays night in and night out," Hornacek said. "Deron wants to win, and you need a leader who wants to win and will do anything to win — if that means diving for a ball or getting after somebody or taking the guy who has the hot hand (on defense)."
Williams isn't asking to be a one-man conductor of this Jazz band, though. While talking about the importance of strong leadership on winning NBA teams, all of his examples included multiple players who could be characterized as their teams' leaders.
The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.
The recent title-winning Boston Celtics have Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
And, you might have heard about those guys down in Miami.
"Great leaders," Williams said.
Williams, the ultimate do-as-I-do-and-say type of player, said the team has a lot of silent leaders who do more showing than speaking. Ten-year veteran Andrei Kirilenko falls into that category for his all-around play. As does Millsap.
"We've got a lot of guys that go out there and play hard," Williams said. "Paul is definitely a leader by example. He's not going to say much, but he goes out there and plays hard every night, busts his butt and gives it his all. Guys respect that and want to emulate that."
Bell has a leadership aura about him, so the Jazz might've been wise to reacquire him just for that veteran presence he brings back to the team. The 34-year-old has 10 years of NBA experience, is well-spoken, has proven to be a hard-worker, and Sloan would love nothing more than if his defensive example were followed.
"He's definitely going to add another element (of leadership), just another guy that's tough and wants to win. That's what we need — guys that care about winning," Williams said. "Raja's definitely going to be a vocal leader, but also a guy who just goes out there and plays hard every night."
Bell said his biggest emphasis coming back to Utah is to "make an impact" through hard work. He's fine if a leadership role comes along with that, but he's just as fine if he ends up being one of the guys and "a real strong part of a good group."
"He's not afraid," Sloan said of Bell. "We talk about defense — he just comes in and works hard."
Like Hayward, Bell was impressed with Williams' leadership from Day 1 of camp. He liked that the All-Star acted like a coach on the court during a time when the mostly new team was trying to sort the X's from the O's in Sloan's system.
"He's trying to help everyone, and that's where it starts," Bell said. "If you have a guy at the top trying to help everybody else, it kind of filters down through the ranks."9 comments on this story
It certainly sets the tone.
And after an offseason during which players and management played musical chairs with the roster, the results from that type of leadership could be sweet music to fans' ears.