NEWARK, N.J. — More than a year later, Deron Williams still has a competitive fire, a fierce attitude, a strong drive and, yes, a soft spot in his heart for the Utah Jazz.
That was obvious as he spent time after Monday's game to visit with Tyrone Corbin and C.J. Miles in the hallway of the Prudential Center outside the Nets' locker room.
It was equally obvious a moment before inside the locker room when he expressed his well-wishes for his first NBA home.
"I've got a lot of friends on that team," Williams said. "I like to see how they're doing. I wish the best for Coach Corbin, so I definitely check on them a lot."
As such, the NBA expert and former Jazz superstar believes his old team belongs in the postseason — something he won't experience for the second year in a row after being traded to New Jersey in February 2011.
It's looking more possible that he can live vicariously through Miles, Paul Millsap & Co.
"I feel like they're going to make the playoffs. They're playing solid basketball on both ends of the floor right now," Williams said. "I think Coach Corbin's doing a great job of leading the guys. They've got a good mix of veterans and youth, and I think it's working for them."
It definitely worked for the Jazz against Williams' current team on this night, when Utah mustered up enough energy to earn a 105-84 blowout victory.
For the second time this season, Williams struggled against the Jazz.
Williams only scored 16 points on 3-for-15 shooting in his first game in Utah as an opponent back in January, and he wasn't much more efficient in this lopsided loss.
In this mismatch, D-Will finished with 11 assists and 17 points, but he missed 14 of 21 shots after a rough 1-for-10 start.
"I just haven't played good, haven't really shot good against them," said Williams, noting that the Jazz have changed their defensive approach this season. "They definitely did a good job defending me, making things tough on me. They pushed us out of our offense a lot, which definitely affects me."
Not being surrounded by as much talent as he had for most of his 51/2 seasons in Utah also affects him.
Williams is expected to carry the scoring load, averaging a career-high 21.9 points, but it's come at the expense of getting teammates involved as he's also dishing out just 8.2 assists, the lowest since his rookie season in Utah.
Without much help around him, Williams has suffered through a rough season, with the Nets falling to 16-35 as they near the end of their New Jersey era.
It remains a mystery, however, if Williams will follow the team to Brooklyn, where the Nets will play beginning next fall for good.
It's a conversation stopper if you ask D-Will questions about his future — or playing with Dwight Howard, for that matter.
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Williams has been much more gracious in talking about the team that shocked the NBA world by shipping him to the East Coast in exchange for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, the Nets' 2011 first-round pick (Enes Kanter), a Golden State pick and $3 million.
"They're playing good basketball right now," Williams said about the Jazz. "They've just got to finish strong. They're right there."
Williams did admit it's odd to see his old pals in Utah uniforms while he's with another team.
"It is a little different looking and seeing those guys and Coach Corbin," he said. "But it's just basketball."
It was equally bizarre for Millsap, one of Williams' closest remaining friends on the Jazz. The two played together for four-plus seasons, a span that included a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.
"It's just tough to look over there and see a teammate that you've played with for a while, especially guys that got you involved for a long time," Millsap said. "But, you know, Deron's a tough competitor. We knew he was going to come out and fight until the end."
The respect is also equal from Corbin, who called Williams a "tremendous talent" with a wide variety of talents — from playmaking to defending.11 comments on this story
Added Corbin: "His size, the vision, the competitive juices that he have, the defensive tools that he have, he's one of the best point guards in this league in my opinion."