SALT LAKE CITY — Charles Barkley, never one to pull punches, recently took a verbal jab at a former Utah Jazz player.
“Deron Williams has been hurt a lot the last couple of years,” TNT's outspoken analyst told New York reporters last week. “He’s never going to get back to Utah. His best days are behind him.”
The part about the injuries is a fact. Williams has dealt with ankle and knee issues this season.
To clarify, though, the Round Mound of Sound was not being literal in the second part of that quote. Williams actually returned to Utah, where he still owns a home, during the All-Star break.
And the ex-Jazz point guard will be back in his old stomping grounds Wednesday night when the Nets take on his former team at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Brooklyn player, no doubt, will receive a mixture of Bronx cheers and Beehive State cheers during his third return visit since being traded to the Nets three years ago.
Whether Williams’ best days are in the rearview mirror and if he can “get back to Utah” on a playing level are questions that remain to be answered.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin still holds Williams in high esteem. He saw up close and personal how dangerous a player the three-time All-Star can be from working with him from 2005-11.
“He can control the game by his pace. He can post for a guard. He can come off screens and score,” Corbin said. “He’s a pretty good one-on-one player. He’s a really, really good passer when he’s on and can distribute the ball to his teammates. He’s a guy that can get on a run (with) four, five, six baskets in a row (where) he’s just going at guys and making plays.”
Jazz rookie Trey Burke can’t wait for his first meeting with the player who used to be in his position. Burke was still nursing his broken right index finger when the Nets clobbered the Jazz 104-88 in Brooklyn back in the first week of the regular season. Williams had 10 points and eight assists in that Nov. 5 victory.
“Yeah, it’s always going to be a competitive matchup when you’re going up against a guy like him,” Burke said. “So it should be fun.”
The Jazz have won both showdowns with Williams in Utah since he was traded shortly after Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan resigned in February 2011.
In his first game back as an opponent, Williams missed 12 of 15 shots and scored 16 points in a 107-94 Jazz win on Jan. 14, 2012. Last March, D-Will scored 21 points with 11 assists in Utah’s 116-107 win.
Williams received some cheers from the crowd but was loudly booed, every time he touched the ball even, from the fans that used to heartily support him and sport his No. 8 jersey during his time in Utah, which included a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.
"It's getting better," Williams said last year of his reception by Jazz fans. "Maybe next year I'll get some boos, maybe a couple of cheers. It's good, no animosity. I don't have anything bad to say about the fans. They're going to react and think what they want to think. I can't really change that, but I've just got a lot of love for them.”
So how does the previous Jazz point guard of the future compare to the current point guard of the future?
In his rookie season of 2005-06, Williams averaged 10.8 points on 42.1 percent shooting, 4.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 28.8 minutes in 80 games after being picked third overall.
The 6-1 Burke, the No. 9 pick of the 2013 draft, is averaging 12.5 points on 36.8 percent shooting, 5.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 0.6 steals.
“Obviously, the fans are going to make a big deal of it,” Burke said of the showdown. “For me, I’m just going out there and play it out like it’s a regular game. I know how good of a point guard he is, so it’s going to be critical for me to tune in and be focused.”
He'll leave the trash-talking to Barkley and the reception to Jazz fans.