Poor Deron Williams. He did not wish to continue his career with the Utah Jazz, but the All-Star point guard was not willing to kick up a ruckus over his desire to leave Salt Lake City. As a result, he was stuck in Utah, joylessly collecting a massive salary from a team he hated.
Only that is not how it happened at all. The Jazz traded Williams to New Jersey rather noiselessly two seasons ago, and the deal worked out so well that Williams recently signed a five-year contract with the now-Brooklyn Nets. The Nets, a moribund organization when they acquired Williams for two players and two draft picks, have taken steps to build a winner around Williams, scooping up veterans Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson and re-signing their young star center, Brook Lopez.
The relatively drama-free way in which Williams worked his exit from the Jazz is virtually forgotten now that the ongoing Dwight Howard situation has devolved into a sideshow. A report that Howard could be traded by the end of the week may be accurate, but most likely it merely means Howard's name will stay in the news for another few days. Meanwhile, Williams is over in London with the U.S. men's basketball team and cannot wait to be the face of the Nets as they move to a new hometown.
The longer Howard and the Magic draw out this process, the more Williams' case looks civil by comparison. In many fans' minds, Williams is far from a golden boy, of course. He had a hand in orchestrating his exit from a small-market club to a larger one, and the majority of the credit for the quick and painless exit should go to the Jazz front office. Yet Williams did not compromise his team's negotiating position with the sort of public pronouncements, anonymous or otherwise, made by Howard or Carmelo Anthony. When Williams was asked about his intention in Utah, he generally deflected the questions while making it known that deep down he wanted to be elsewhere. Throughout last season with the Nets, as he neared free agency this summer, Williams supplied only staid remarks about waiting-and-seeing, avoiding almost anything that might be turned into a headline.
Howard's situation has been anything but staid. We will not bother to go into the full details, since your laptop or iPad will likely become obsolete by the time we recount it all. At this point, even the biggest NBA fan may not even care about the details anymore.
No matter how Williams or Howard approached their impending free agencies, Howard's story was bound to be bigger. He is the more impactful player by a healthy margin, he started his career in a larger media market and he had a more marketable personality, at least before this media storm decimated his reputation. But Williams remains an example that it did not have to be this way for Howard. With less hoopla, the Magic might have been in the advantageous position of holding a star every other team wanted, and could have set the price high. Instead, teams have purposely kept their offers at market value or slightly below, recognizing that the Magic have little room to compromise given Howard's demands. The Jazz were under much less pressure, which contributed to their ability to nab promising power forward Derrick Favors, two draft picks and Devin Harris, an off-guard miscast as a point guard, but one who still started 79 games for the Jazz over the last two seasons.
Again, the expertise in the Jazz front office compared to the Magic's was a major difference between the two players' situations. Former general manager Otis Smith and first-year GM Rob Hennigan do not have the track records of Kevin O'Connor, who guides a small-market franchise as well as any executive. Just as the Magic could have made their jobs easier by resolving the Howard problem long ago, Howard could have increased his chances of reaching his desired destination as well. Williams proved it was possible to get what he wanted and not commit character suicide in the process.