SALT LAKE CITY – I don't do many things better than Deron Williams. His basketball skills were better in the fifth grade than mine on my best day.
But the one thing I do have on him is age and perspective.
I have seen this happen before, while for him, this week was a first.
He lost a buddy.
If I'm understanding Thursday's comments, Williams is mad. His pal Ronnie Brewer got traded to Memphis in an 11th-hour deal. Adding to the surprise was that Brewer was pulled from the team's charter. Williams had only seconds to say farewell.
It would have been nice to have soft lighting and Mantovani music to break the news, but what could the Jazz do? It went down to the wire.
The move annoyed Williams, who complained to reporters that the trade didn't make the Jazz better.
"I haven't really got nothing much good to say about the trade, so ..." he said.
So instead he had some bad stuff to say.
He said other teams in the West are improving "and we're essentially getting worse, if you ask me."
He even intimated he might not re-sign with the Jazz when his contract is up.
"That's why I (only) signed a three-year deal," he added.
This isn't virgin territory. Players get attached, then a trade happens and it doesn't end gracefully. In 1993, there was speculation at season's end whether backup center Ike Austin would return to the Jazz. Austin had become good friends with Karl Malone, to the point I wondered whether Malone was Austin's meal ticket. They hunted and fished together in the summer, hung out on the road.
During that off-season, Malone told a TV station he didn't want to be with the Jazz if they didn't keep Austin. When training camp arrived in October, Austin was there. But on the day rosters needed to be finalized, he was cut.
Afterward, Malone was miffed — as much as Williams is now. Approached by a team publicist the day after Austin was disengaged, Malone heatedly said, "I'm not talking to anyone. I don't care who they are."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan acknowledged the move wasn't popular with Malone, saying, "I'm sure he'd be happy if Ike was still here. I don't have a problem with that."
Williams' comment that the Jazz aren't getting better isn't outrageous. Until the draft pick the Jazz received in the trade arrives in 2011 or beyond, it's hard to see whether cutting Brewer was a good basketball move. It did alleviate their overcrowding at shooting guard.
At the same time, it ticked off their best player.
Williams' reaction is understandable in another sense. Despite being in the league five years, he hasn't seen a lot of friends moved. Since he signed in 2005, the only trades the team has made involved Curtis Borchardt/Kirk Snyder/Raul Lopez (2005) and Eric Maynor/Matt Harpring (2009). Borchardt, Snyder and Lopez were gone before Williams played a game with the Jazz. Maynor/Harpring was a move Williams probably understood, since Harpring's injuries had become chronic and the trade made fiscal sense.
In this case, Williams might stay mad, which could hurt the chemistry the Jazz have had the last month. But his maturity is good; more likely, he'll get over it.31 comments on this story
When the Jazz cut Austin, Malone acted ticked for a few days, then went back to being the Mailman. Austin went on to have a respectable career, including a couple of good seasons in Miami and L.A., while Malone went on to two MVP awards and two trips to the NBA Finals.
It may seem a big deal now, but Williams should keep perspective. It was a trade, not an execution. If the Jazz keep winning, three months from now it will be a moot point.
Losing buddies may be hard, but not nearly as hard as losing games.
That's when a guy has reason to get mad.