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San Antonio • Somewhere between Texas and Utah and New Jersey and back to Texas, during those 36 or so hours when he was flying around and trying to process what just happened, Deron Williams arrived at an understanding about why the Jazz traded him to the New Jersey Nets.
Having watched former teammates Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews leave as free agents last summer with the Jazz receiving nothing in return, Williams recognizes why Jazz CEO Greg Miller would cite a "gut sense" that Williams would explore free agency himself, as early as 2012.
"He was in a tough situation, because I never gave a certainty I was going to stay because I didn't know. I still can't say," Williams said this morning after his first shootaround with the Nets, in advance of tonight's game against San Antonio at the AT&T Center.
Miller "had that backfire a couple times now," Williams said. "I don't think they could really afford to let me test my options."
So the Jazz dealt him to New Jersey for guard Devin Harris, forward Derrick Favors and two first-round draft choices including the Nets' 2011 pick. That's almost certain to fall into the lottery, although Williams is targeting the biggest comeback in NBA history. During his introductory news conference Thursday in New Jersey, Williams spoke of "trying to make a playoff push," even with the Nets (17-40)standing 12th in the Eastern Conference, 9.5 games behind eighth-place Indiana.
"Strange things can happen," Williams said today. "We get hot, some teams get cold; it can happen."
The effort is worthwhile "especially when we don't have a [first-round] pick," Williams said.
In that sense, Jazz fans will be cheering against the Nets, for the sake of draft position. But Williams' drive is not geared toward punishing his former employer.
"It's a business, man," he said. "There's no animosity, no hard feelings. I thank the Miller family for all the years they had me there. They gave me my first shot in the NBA. There's never going to be hard feelings there."
Williams smiled and spoke comfortably during the brief session with reporters, becoming a little testy only when a Nets beat writer wryly challenged his description of coach Avery Johnson as "one of the better [former] point guards in this league."
After being informed of the trade Wednesday morning, Williams flew to Salt Lake City to gather clothing and say goodbye to his wife, Amy, and their two daughters. He then flew to Newark, N.J., arriving at about 4 a.m. After a physical exam and news conference, he joined the Nets for their Thursday evening flight to San Antonio.
The Nets will play two games against Toronto in London, March 4 and 5. Amy Williams is due to deliver a child March 15, but hopes to move up the date to when her husband has a break following the London trip.
Johnson cited "absolutely, a different air" with a two-time All-Star joining his team and intends to use Williams "for as many minutes as he can play" tonight and Saturday at Houston. Williams is learning as much of New Jersey's offense as possible, with Johnson intending to install some of the Jazz's plays as they go along.
Williams is trying to unlearn the Jazz's defensive principle of funneling dribblers away from the baseline the opposite of Johnson's approach. "I forced middle for the last six years, so that's going to cause problems," Williams said.
As for tonight, Williams is back in an arena where the Jazz won twice last season, after having lost 23 consecutive games, counting the playoffs. It will be his first regular-season game since Feb. 16, when the Jazz lost at home to Golden State, before he competed in the NBA All-Star Game.
"I'm ready; you've got to be, you have no choice," Williams said. "I'm looking forward to it tonight. It should be fun."
Monday, when the Nets play Phoenix at home, the team is giving away 10,000 T-shirts with Williams' name and No. 8 on the back.