SALT LAKE CITY -- Before Friday morning's practice, coach Tyrone Corbin and his Utah Jazz players were like a first grader's homework assignment: all on one page.
Knowing former Jazzman Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets were coming to town for tonight's game at EnergySolutions Arena, Corbin and Co. chose their words carefully despite nagging questions from the local media.
It seemed clear nobody wanted to saying anything even remotely inflammatory -- or for that matter disrespectful -- about the All-Star point guard whom the Jazz traded in February 2011.
"He's another opponent, he was here before but he's on another team now, so we've got to play against him," Corbin said in his opening statement.
From that point on he really didn't change his tone.
Corbin admitted because Williams played 439 games for the Jazz between 2005 and 2011, his former coaches and teammates might have a better feel for the 27-year-old's style of play. On the other hand, he said Williams isn't the only player on the Nets' roster.
"We know he's talented," he said. "(But) we're preparing for New Jersey, not just Deron."
In fact, Williams isn't the only former Jazzman on the team. He is joined by Mehmet Okur, Kris Humphries, DeShawn Stevenson and Sundiata Gaines.
As an assistant coach under Jerry Sloan from 2004-2011, Corbin had a hand in developing each of those players, with the exception of Stevenson.
"They were great guys while they were here," he said. "They're with another team now and I wish them well. They're doing well, they're still in the league. We'll say 'hi' and continue to work."
Williams, however, is the one Jazz fans likely will remember the most.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft, he was seen as Utah's point guard of the future. And for the better part of six seasons he was exactly that, averaging 17 points and nine assists per game, appearing in two All-Star games and rising to No. 4 on the Jazz's all-time assists list.
But Williams occasionally voiced his frustrations as the Jazz struggled through the middle part of the 2010-11 season and had a run-in with Sloan at halftime of Utah's Feb. 9, 2011 home loss to the Chicago Bulls. Although he said the confrontation with Williams had little to do with his decision, Sloan, who was in his 23rd season with the team, announced his retirement the following day.
Williams was labeled a "coach killer" by some observers, although he denied running Sloan out of town. Still, the Jazz traded him to New Jersey on Feb. 23, citing a concern Williams had given them no indication he planned on sticking with the team beyond his current contract.
In exchange, Utah received point guard Devin Harris, forward Derrick Favors and a pair of first-round draft picks.
Harris and Williams know each other well dating back to their college days when Harris played at Wisconsin and Williams was at Illinois. On Friday, Harris said Williams is one of the league's top point guards, despite the fact the Nets have struggled this season.
"He's definitely among the elite, he has been for a while," he said. "(There will be) a lot of emotions with him coming back for the first time but we have to worry about ourselves as a team and continue to do what we need to do."
Jazz swingman C.J. Miles came into the league with Williams and both grew up in the Dallas area. They quickly became friends in 2005 and remains so, Miles said Friday.
And yet even he wouldn't deviate from the Jazz's united front regarding Williams' return.
"Those guys are our friends and former teammates," he said. "(But on the court) they're opponents. We've just got to go win the game."
* JAZZ NOTES: Reserve point guard Earl Watson, who suffered a sprained knee near the end of Wednesday's loss to the Lakers, underwent and MRI on Thursday. Team officials on Friday said test revealed no structural damage to Watson's left knee. He has a bone bruise below the knee and missed Friday's practice. He has been listed as a game-time decision for tonight. ... The Nets played in Phoenix on Friday and did not have a shootaround on Saturday. Team officials informed the Jazz's media relations staff Williams would not speak to the media before the game.