Deron Williams, Gordan Giricek, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur. That was the starting lineup of a once-Western Conference Finals participant, I swear. The Utah Jazz lost in five games to the mightier San Antonio Spurs that year (2007), the eventual NBA champion. Utah lost to the Lakers in the playoffs the next three years rather quietly, and a once promising young franchise slinked into mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
But at some inconceivable point in time, the Williams-Boozer tandem bred wins, even playoff success. This feels careless and irresponsible to basketball’s aristocratic culture, that an inferior caricature of the Stockton-Malone dynamic could have broken ranks and stolen a seat at the adult table. Even Wikipedia has acknowledged their place in Utah’s genealogy, dedicating an entire section to this period. “2006-2010: ‘Williams and Boozer,'” it reads, generously synthesizing a so-called era, a fabled part of Utah’s basketball lexicon. Of course, there was nothing really noteworthy about those teams – although, comparatively, the Williams-Boozer Jazz’s furthest foray into championship lore ended in the same unceremonious style as Derrick Rose’s greatest playoff achievement. They were a nice team with limited success, one in a number of NBA franchises who build teams that are just not quite good enough to break through.
Then Carlos Boozer departed via free agency, scooping up a hefty contract in the summer of unmitigated indulgences. Boozer, as it stands, has vacillated from overpaid to overrated to undervalued, and now to some mildly effective power forward better suited to swallow media criticism on behalf of his otherwise infallible teammates. Rose is no pick and roll point guard, so Boozer’s game subsequently regressed – you can’t engineer a successful inside-outside duo by mashing together any 6-4 guard with any 6-9 forward. Maybe his psyche and stat sheet would have preferred Utah, but he’s not the first player to blindly follow his bank account into unchartered waters.
Time passed and the memory of that duo splintered into lesser parts – punching bag Boozer in Chicago and Williams wading in his diminished capacity as a standalone point guard. Williams butted heads with Jerry Sloan, Sloan retired abruptly and Williams was traded to New Jersey. That the longest tenured NBA head coach could be forced out and/or quit because of a measly point guard, one that brought exactly one victory beyond the second round of the playoffs, is astonishing, if you just reflect on it for a moment. Who knew that Williams even possessed such clout, such force of personality to effortlessly discard a sure-fire HoF coach? Moreover, how could someone as famous as Deron Williams so effectively closet such a distasteful temperament? And, most extraordinarily, this whole episode amounted to nothing more than a blip on the basketball radar. Maybe it was a manifestation of our Miami/LeBron-enveloped selves – we just don’t have time for trivialities anymore, not if we can ogle at some undiscovered minutiae concerning The Chosen One. Blame it on small markets or slanted media coverage or whatever else – but this, in my mind, should have been a far more conspicuous and sensational story than it turned out to be.
It was then that I came to a pseudo-realization, one that has been staring us all in the face for years: we don’t know a single thing about Deron Williams. I don’t mean to intimate that we know other NBA players – of course their public personas are mere ideally catered versions of humanity. Simply that Deron Williams gives us nothing, and we ask nothing of him. Maybe he’s some magnanimous spirit worthy of acclaim, or maybe he’s just a little sh*t. I don’t think anyone really knows.
His upcoming free agency is likewise mysterious. Maybe it’s because he’s playing second fiddle to the theater of Dwight Howard, or maybe it’s because any post-Decision decision pales in psychological and basketball comparison. No one’s shattering and rejuvenating lives this summer, anyway. In the summer of 2010, we could at least delve (incorrectly so) into the psychosis guiding each free agent’s choice, even if our prognostications were limited and inexact. Joe Johnson was a selfish scorer unconcerned with team success, so naturally he would re-up for the max somewhere. Amar’e Stoudemire was just too fashionable and glitzy for the desert, too brash to play second fiddle to Steve Nash anymore. New York made sense.
There’s nothing on Deron Williams other than his undoubtedly scrutiny-level talent – the kind we nitpick until a minor deficiency explodes into a gaping chasm. I’m not really sure when Deron Williams fell off the basketball map, or if he was really ever on it. Even when he was drafted third overall in 2005, he was just some guy who had led Illinois to the National Championship game (and lost). That was nice. Maybe he’d make some noise in the NBA, one day. Chris Paul really owned the show – he was prettier. Nicer passes, sexier crossover, all that stuff. Deron was too bulldog-ish and grizzled, intimidating with the circumference of his bicep instead of picturesque floor general-ing. The Stephon Marbury mold.
It wasn’t until a few years later that we could even settle how to pronounce his name. Was he DER-on or der-ON? Everyone knew the “w” in Nowitzki was really a “v.” – he was a great basketball player. DER-on/der-ON hadn’t quite reached that level of talent where we cared enough to inquire about those delicate tonalities. (It’s DER-on, I think.)
Let’s fast forward back to the now. His free agency has articulated the subtlest difference between DER-on and other stars: it’s not a matter of where he’ll choose, but how we’ll react to his choice. LeBron wasn’t spared that luxury. If he wanted loyalty, he would stay in Cleveland. Fame, New York. Blasphemy, Miami. Every choice compartmentalized him into some inescapable nook of personality. DER-on, it seems, is in control of us, and not the other way around. Look around the Internet – just a few facts and weak rumors concerning his upcoming decision, and nothing more. He’s wrapped in some bubble of secrecy that even Chris Broussard can’t penetrate.
Something tells me we’ll analyze Dallas and Brooklyn’s future, one a lucky winner of the sweepstakes and the other a spurned loser, without contemplating the non-basketball why. Which is undoubtedly important, I think, because if each player made solely “basketball decisions” about his career, the top 15 players in the league would be on the same team. But we can’t explore this other side of DER-on because there’s never been anything to go on before, and there’s nothing now. But, just maybe, he likes it that way.
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