SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The second blockbuster NBA trade in two days sent Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets, shifting another star from the Western Conference to the East and to a bigger market.
Now, while the Nets hope they can keep their new All-Star long-term and turn him into a face-of-the-franchise player the way Jason Kidd was years ago, small-market teams are left to wonder what the future holds for them.
Is there something the NBA should do to protect teams from losing their stars?
“I think this is a relatively recent phenomenon, but one that I believe is being watched very closely,” Jazz CEO Greg Miller said after trading away his All-Star point guard in exchange for rookie Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash.
“I can only speak from the Jazz ownership perspective in saying that I’m not interested in seeing a congregation of star players on a handful of teams throughout the league. I don’t think it does the teams any good. It doesn’t do the fans any good. It doesn’t do the sponsors any good.
“I would like to see as much parity as there can be in the league. Beyond that, it’s all just speculation.”
The trend started in the summer of 2007 when the Boston Celtics made a blockbuster 7-for-1 trade with Minnesota that gave them 10-time All-Star Kevin Garnett. The Celtics with the Big Three of Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce went on to win the NBA title in 2008.
Last offseason, the Jazz lost power forward Carlos Boozer to the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix star Amare Stoudamire signed with the New York Knicks, and league MVP LeBron James ditched Cleveland for Miami’s beaches and a star-studded Heat lineup that featured Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
On Tuesday, the Knicks finalized a deal with the Denver Nuggets that sent All-Star Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Eastern Conference.
It all left King James boasting that his prediction of a shift of power to the East was coming true.
The Jazz chose to combat it the only way they could _ by being proactive with the Williams trade and getting as much as they could now even if it created more turmoil just 13 days after Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retire after clashing with Williams.
Utah’s front office said it had no definite indication from Williams that he wouldn’t re-sign after 2012, but it also had no indication he would.
“We had an opportunity to replace ambiguity with a high degree of certainty,” Miller said.
In weighing the decision, Miller tried to put himself in Williams’ shoes, as a player trying to earn as much money as he could in a short window of opportunity.
“Deron probably felt like he could attain those objectives in bigger markets,” Miller said. “If that’s the way he felt, I wouldn’t want to hold him here against his will or have him be unhappy. If our franchise couldn’t offer Deron things he needed, then it was best he go somewhere he can get those things.”
Complicating matters was the prospect of an NBA lockout next season, which could have left Williams as a free agent outright heading into the 2012-2013 season.
While Williams’ trade caught many by surprise, including Williams, who heard it as he watched TV before a shootaround Wednesday morning in Dallas, the Nets have been trying to wheel-and-deal since last year.
They couldn’t get James as a free agent, and then saw Anthony go to the Knicks.
The Nets and Jazz had talked weeks earlier, Utah general manager Kevin O’Connor acknowledged. But the timing was right to pull the trigger on the best deal the Jazz could secure.
“Nobody likes to lose their star player, a marquee player,” Miller said. “This deal allows the Utah Jazz to preserve our assets and control our destiny.”
The Nets, meanwhile, got the All-Star they have so coveted _ one they hope signs an extension this summer to become the face of their franchise when they move to Brooklyn in 2012.
“I feel Deron Williams is the best point guard in the NBA,” Nets General Manager Billy King said. “I spoke with Deron and he’s excited about it. He understands where we are and where we want to go. In this league, you win with point guards.”
The 6-foot-3 Williams was selected third overall in 2005 out of Illinois, and he’s averaged 17.3 points, 9.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds for the Jazz. Williams has been even better in 44 postseason games, with averages of 21.1 points, 9.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
Jazz teammates said Williams was disappointed at first upon hearing the news, especially with a pregnant wife and a home in Utah.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Williams later told Jazz team broadcasters. “I had a great five-and-a-half years in Salt Lake. The fans have always been great for me. I’m going to miss them.”
He also said he’d miss his teammates.
“I wish I could have (done) a little more, win a championship, brought that to Utah,” Williams said. “I still hope they get a championship.”
If the Jazz are to win one, they’ll have to blend together even more new faces while mired in a horrid losing streak.
The Jazz have lost 14 of their last 18 and are 0-4 under new coach Ty Corbin following Wednesday night’s loss in Dallas.
“We’re going to keep the faith, stay positive and try to fight,” said Jazz forward Paul Millsap, who has to take on more of a leadership role now with Williams gone.
Jazz brass hinted that they may not be done dealing before Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline.
For now, Miller insisted he would not be driven by finances but rather a desire to remain competitive. That meant taking a hit on the luxury tax.
“We’re in the fifth-smallest market with the sixth-highest payroll in the league, so we’re pushing the envelope as hard as we can to be aggressive and attract talent to this team,” Miller said.
No player is sacred if it means improving the team.
Asked how he would be able to market a team in Salt Lake City without a star, Miller said with “classic Jazz basketball.”
“It’s lunch pail, work boots,” he said. “And who knows? We may have a star player before any of us realizes it.”
Harris, a former All-Star point guard, and Favors, the No. 3 pick in the draft, were part of the package the Nets had been offering the Nuggets for Anthony.
Miller hoped Jazz players would continue to improve, and some of their first-round picks would blossom.
He said the identity would remain the same, even if the faces are rapidly changing.
“I hope our identity will continue to be toughness and being a scrappy ball team that never quits,” Miller said. “Those have always been the hallmarks through 23 years that Jerry was here. It wasn’t really glamorous. It was just get out there as hard as you can to make things happen.”
The Nets have a part of that in Williams.
“Very rarely are you able to trade for someone who is arguably the best at his position,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We had to give up a lot, but when you get a chance to get him, you go for it. It wasn’t a planned trade. This wasn’t a plan B. He’s a plan A guy.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York contributed to this report.
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