Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — This was certainly not the happy "homecoming" that Deron Williams was probably hoping for, and rightfully deserved.
No, there was nothing happy about it for him at all.
In fact, the EnergySolutions Arena floor which he had proudly called his home court for five-plus seasons turned into a nightmarish House of Horrors for the former Utah Jazz point guard on Saturday night.
The man that Jazz fans once affectionately called D-Will struggled through a dreadful shooting night, was loudly booed virtually every time he touched the ball and couldn't help but feel awfully frustrated after he and his New Jersey Nets teammates got slapped by the Jazz, 107-94.
And though the ESA atmosphere was highly hostile much of the time toward Williams and most of his team, which features five former Jazzmen on its roster, he was nothing but gracious in the postgame interview outside the visitors' locker room.
"I was excited," he said. "I was definitely excited to come back here and play, and I wanted to put forth a better effort, a better game, and it didn't happen. But I'm sure I'll be back here many more times and I'll look forward to those games as well.
"I pretty much expected mixed reactions — I got boos, I got cheers. … If that's how people want to react, I can't control it. It didn't bother me."
It was Williams, a two-time All-Star selection, who emerged as the Jazz's premier player and the indisputable face of the franchise during his time in Utah, where he also did a great deal of charitable work in the community.
But he was traded away to the Nets last February, a couple of weeks after a highly publicized run-in with longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who abruptly resigned.
In his first appearance back in Utah since that trade, and just one night after pouring in 35 points with 14 assists in a road win on Friday at Phoenix, Williams sputtered through a 3-of-15 performance from the field.
He handed out five assists, turned the ball over five times and, although he finished with 16 points thanks to some 9-for-10 foul shooting, had one of the more forgettable nights of his career.
"I wish I would've played better," he said, "but that game last night (at Phoenix) took a lot out of me. … It looked like we didn't have any legs.
They looked like a fresh team, they were beating us to loose balls and getting offensive rebounds. They looked a lot more energized than we did."
And you can bet that the fiercely competitive Williams likely won't ever forget it, because he got treated the way Cavaliers fans treated LeBron James when he returned to Cleveland — the difference being that LeBron chose to leave via free agency and was viewed as a traitor, while Williams was simply traded in exchange for point guard Devin Harris, promising young big man Derrick Favors, two draft picks and $3 million cash.
It was sort of sad in a way to see the way Williams was treated Saturday, especially because of what he meant to the franchise while he was here.
Heck, with the way he was playing in a Jazz uniform, some folks figured he might certainly get his number retired someday, too, in the tradition of former Jazz greats Stockton, Malone, Hornacek, Dantley, Griffith, Eaton, et al.
"There was a lot of people cheering for me when I scored and made some plays, and I definitely had a great time here," he said with sincere fondness for Utah's fans. "It was a great point in my life. The Jazz organization gave me my first opportunity in the NBA, so I will always be grateful for them and I will always appreciate them for that."
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