SALT LAKE CITY — It's a scene from a thousand movies, the hero pursued by armed and angry foes. He races across rooftops and sprints through fields until he reaches the cliff's edge.
He looks briefly back at the advancing mob, then leaps into space. His plan is to fall safely to water, but he might be dashed against the rocks. What else is a small-market NBA team to do about a first-rate free-agent-to-be?
At some point, there's no turning back.
Thus, the Jazz are officially swimming in deep water. Sharks may be circling, but it's better than certain death — or in this case sitting idle while their best player leaves as a free agent.
The Jazz relinquished their only future Hall of Fame possibility, Wednesday, by trading Deron Williams to New Jersey. He wasn't sticking around. That much was clear as he talked about free agency over the years. He never said he was leaving, but he didn't come close to saying he wanted to stay, either.
"It would have been great to have him finish his career in a Jazz uniform, but I just didn't get the indications his heart was in it — I don't mean to imply he slacked off or whatever — but that he was interested in finishing his career here," said CEO Greg Miller.
Trading Williams for lesser talent was actually a good thing for the Jazz; it proved they are willing to try something daring.
"I don't see any player as being sacred," Miller said. "Anyone could be traded if I felt, or we felt as an organization, that it would make our franchise better."
The Jazz left Williams before he left on his own.
They may not be better than they were with him, but they're better than they would have been without him in 2012.
"Given the uncertainty of the situation," said Jazz general manger Kevin O'Connor, "we feel this was by far the best option."
On the darker side is the realization that the Jazz may have seen their last superstar. Increasingly, such players shape the NBA. That's why Carmelo Anthony is in New York, LeBron James in Miami and Kobe Bryant in L.A. They get where they want to be, which isn't often at the edge of a dead lake, on the fringe of the wilderness, in a town that closes at dusk.
The Paul Millsaps, Mehmet Okurs and Al Jeffersons do fine in Utah, but the superstars pick their own cities, teams and teammates. Hence, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Miami and New York will continue to gobble up the best talent, while Portland, Utah, Indiana and Milwaukee will make do.
San Antonio is an anomaly, having enjoyed the same advantage the Jazz did in the Stockton/Malone era. It drafted stars who wanted to stay. But those days are waning.
While the trade news was shocking, it wasn't entirely surprising. Williams couldn't hide his discontent. He complained of teammates not running the plays effectively, earlier this season, and bickered with Jerry Sloan. He regularly acknowledged he could get more attention in a larger market. Last summer he implied if the Jazz didn't get the right talent to surround him, he didn't want to be in Utah.82 comments on this story
It didn't take a fortune cookie to know that a year from July he would have left as a free agent, regardless. Instead, the Jazz traded for Devin Harris, a guard who averages 15 points and seven assists this year, and 6-foot-10 rookie Derrick Favors, a No. 3 draft pick. Neither is the level of Williams, but why wait for him to blow a kiss as he leaves town?
The Jazz also received two first-round draft picks and a reported $3 million.
They got all that and a bag of chips.
OK, no chips.
For Jazz fans, Wednesday's trade was jarring. The team has become decidedly more businesslike in recent years. But the trade showed the Jazz intend to avoid what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who imploded when LeBron James left.
The Jazz can accept being called many things, but cavalier(s) isn't one of them.
Better to leap before the mob has a chance to pounce.