Mike Terry, Deseret News
Deron Williams is about to make his first trip to EnergySolutions Arena as a visitor.
Conflicting emotions might bounce around with butterflies underneath his No. 8 Nets jersey tonight, but Williams eagerly anticipates his Utah homecoming — with excitement, not edginess or resentment.
"I'm not nervous," Williams said Friday about returning to his old stomping grounds with New Jersey. "I'm excited."
Williams, one of the most respected and reviled players in Jazz franchise history, also has a hunch as to how the question du jour will be answered.
Will Jazz fans boo or cheer D-Will?
Simply put, yes.
"I'm sure there are going to be some mixed reviews — people that boo me, people that cheer for me," Williams said. "I'm not too concerned with that. I'm just excited to go play in front of those fans again."
It's been almost a year since that happened.
And he was greeted with mixed responses then, too.
On Feb. 9, 2011, Carlos Boozer received expected boos — not Booz! — from Jazz fans when the Chicago Bulls played in Utah. More importantly that night, Williams and Jerry Sloan had a well-publicized locker-room feud — one that played a part in the Hall of Fame coach resigning midway through his 23rd season the next day.
As if that wasn't shocking enough, the following night Bronx cheers were sent in the direction of Williams — the extremely popular two-time All-Star point guard — when the face of the Jazz franchise was introduced prior to tipoff. In Utah. Wearing the home team's colors.
Less than two weeks later, another surprise development occurred. Williams, entering the prime of his career, was shipped to New Jersey in exchange for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks (Enes Kanter being one) and a stash of cash.
Jazz brass claimed the trade was made because they weren't sure whether Williams would stay in Utah when his max contract allowed him to search elsewhere (this summer).
Who knows where D-Will ends up — Brooklyn, Orlando or elsewhere with Dwight Howard, maybe Dallas — but it won't be back in the Beehive State.
"No," Williams said. "That chapter in my life is over."
Williams is hopeful Jazz fans will give him a warm reception and remember the good times from that era — all the wins, playoff runs, highlight plays, fun quotes, silly commercials, even the charitable acts.
But he is realistic.
He knows human nature.
He knows he's the enemy now that a different team's name is on his chest.
And Williams knows he is blamed for Sloan's stunning resignation.
"Everybody, they read one thing and that's what's ingrained in their mind," Williams said. "I would hope that (a nice ovation), but I know it's probably not going to happen with everybody. I know it's not going to happen because I read Twitter sometimes."
But that won't change his favorable opinion of Utah — the state and the team.
When thinking about his time with the Jazz, Williams' mind wanders back to beginning his NBA career with the organization that selected him out of Illinois, third overall in the 2005 draft, even ahead of Chris Paul.
He's grateful the late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and general manager Kevin O'Connor awarded him a $70 million max contract four summers later.
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