The old Jazz crew was reunited, and an upbeat Deron Williams was undeniably happy.
Williams joined former Utah teammates Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews on Saturday at The Factory in Lehi, participating in a well-attended charity dodgeball tournament. Williams and Korver co-hosted the event, which benefited the Boys & Girls Club of Midvale via Williams' Point of Hope Foundation and the Seer Group, the Utah branch of the Kyle Korver Foundation.
Williams acknowledged that this year's tournament will likely be the last time the event is held in Utah, ending a three-year run, and expects the 2012 version to be based in Chicago. As a result, D-Will decided to go out with a bang.
He arrived in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, proceeding to work out with current Jazzmen Miles, Paul Millsap and Ronnie Price. A Friday night party brought the nucleus of the 2009-10 Jazz back together. By Saturday, Williams was comfortable and at ease, looking like he was back home. As if a shocking Feb. 23 trade to New Jersey had never happened, and he was still the face of the franchise for a small-market Jazz team that struggled to finish a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
"I love Utah," said Williams, who added that he will likely buy a house and settle in Park City after he retires.
Williams, Korver, Miles and Matthews were decked out in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gear and traded inside jokes during an informal media session that followed mid-day autograph signings.
Williams acknowledged that reporters might have a difficult time taking him seriously since he decided to wear a Lone Ranger-type Ninja Turtles mask throughout the interview.
His answers were open and sincere, though, and he spent more than eight minutes discussing everything from the NBA lockout and the status of his surgically repaired right wrist to the fact some Jazz fans still use social media to remind him that they think he's the reason ex-Utah coach Jerry Sloan unexpectedly resigned Feb. 10.
"There's more positive people than negative people," said Williams, who was dealt Feb. 23 to New Jersey. "I get guys on Twitter that are still angry with me. Call me 'Coach Killer' and all type of stuff. That's going to happen everywhere you go. No matter where you go you're going to have people that hate you, people that love you."
There was easily more love than hate being delivered Saturday at The Factory. Williams and Korver weren't obligated to bring their Dodge Barrage back to Utah, especially now that Williams plays for the Nets, Korver suits up for the Bulls and the NBA is engaged in a work stoppage that is approaching the two-month mark and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Williams was active in the community throughout has six-season run with the Jazz, though, and Korver shares his ex-teammate's love for the region.
"I was only here for two and a half years but this is such a great place," said Korver, who expects to work out with Jazz, Bulls and Nets players during September in Santa Barbara, Calif. "Some people kind of knock Salt Lake and Utah, but I always stand up for it. … There are really good people here. I love the pace of life and the mountains and everything about it. I'll always come back. The first season I'm done playing basketball, I'm coming back here to ski."
Matthews was equally devoted, flying in just to lend his name to the charity event. Like Williams, he left the Jazz under less-than-ideal terms. But Matthews was all smiles Saturday. He played down Miles' slimmed-down body and improved conditioning by jokingly reminding the Utah small forward that he was "still fat." Matthews painted a fake teardrop tattoo under one eye, while sporting a mohawk inspired by Portland Trail Blazers teammate Brandon Roy. And the ex-Jazzman was again back amongst close friends, happy and relaxed during the NBA's sleepy summer.
"It's just a lot of fun. Any way that I can help out, and just do something that you're not used to doing," Matthews said. "It's great for the fans and everybody to see us in a different light. They see you in the media, they see you on TV, they see you at the games. They don't see you in something that's not your element and you're just having fun."
Miles will likely only play overseas if an extended lockout forces the cancelation of regular-season games, since he is entering a contract year. He has lost a considerable amount of weight via summer workouts and is shooting for an ideal range of 220-225 pounds when training camp opens for the 2011-12 season. Miles weighs 229 now, and weighed nearly 240 at the end of the 2010-11 season. "I can stay strong and be small," Miles said. "It's just losing anything I don't need."
More with D-Will
Check The Tribune's Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for an extended interview with former Utah star Deron Williams.
Memo partnership? • Williams said Jazz center Mehmet Okur could briefly join him in Turkey while Williams plays for professional club Besiktas.
Williams on his crazy year • It involved an unexpected trade from Utah to New Jersey, the birth of a child and his decision to play in Turkey during the NBA lockout: "I've been all over the place. So I might as well just keep it going. Keep the chaos going, why not? Go with the flow."