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Williams' Return -- Another Case of Risk Gone Wrong

Dave D’Alessandro writes Saturday about Sean Williams’ tour of duty in Colorado and the reason why he came home so soon.

It wasn’t because he was ready.

According to D'Alessandro:"Lawrence Frank spoke with Colorado coach Bob MacKinnon about Sean Williams before he was returned to sender.

"'Coach said he had some good moments and some, uh, other moments,' Frank said. Asked what his player got out of the eight-game stint with the 14ers, Frank replied, 'It was, uh, an experience for him ... but at least he got to play.'

"According to Nets officials, Williams was miserable -- late for a practice and a disruptive influence, is the common refrain -- leading MacKinnon to strongly endorse his return to Jersey for more individual attention".

Al Iannazzone was no more complimentary, reporting that "Sean Williams was recalled from the developmental league Thursday because he didn’t want to be with the Nets’ affiliate in Colorado and showed it.

"Williams became a distraction for the Colorado 14ers, one of the better teams in the NBDL, and they didn’t want him around anymore, multiple sources said. He was thrown out of two games at the NBDL Showcase — with representatives from every NBA team watching — was late for multiple practices and left one practice early, according to sources...Net officials can’t be happy."

This follows earlier reports (denied by the Nets) that he had refused to join his teammates at the half, that he was abusive to D-League refs (confirmed by his ejections). Moreover, Williams didn't join his teammates on their road trip. Instead, he was sent home to "work with Kiki Vandeweghe". Not good.

Increasingly, it looks like Williams’ career as a Net is careening down the same path that Marcus Williams’ took: downright giddiness (in spite of warning flags) on Draft Night, an up-and-down rookie season that ended with All-Rookie Team selections and some tempered hope, and then a collapse into immaturity when things went south. Marcus Williams now sits on the bench in Golden State, so deep in Don Nelson’s doghouse that he didn’t even get burn in a recent triple overtime game. Sean Williams might follow, except right now it’s hard to imagine him returning much more than Marcus did, a heavily protected first round pick in 2011, 2012, 2013, etc. The Bulls reportedly wanted no part of him in the Larry Hughes trade talks.

What went wrong? Some fans criticized Frank for his lack of player development with the two Williams…although that criticism has died down after watching how well Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Devin Harris and Ryan Anderson have performed this season.

The problem, it appears, is that neither were prepared emotionally for the NBA and in the case of Sean Williams, mentally as well.

It’s not as if there weren’t warning signs.

While a sophomore at UConn, Marcus Williams was charged (along with UConn’s current point guard A.J. Price) with breaking into girls' dorm rooms and stealing university laptops. He barely escaped jail. His conditioning was also called into question after he showed up at the PreDraft camp with a high percentage of body fat.

Sean Williams was busted for marijuana as a sophomore at Boston College, then reportedly failed a drug test the next year, ending his collegiate career. His general goofiness in comments both before and after the draft had reporters scratching their heads, wondering what this kid was all about.

Rather than see these as indicators of something deeper, the Nets decided they was nothing more than youthful indiscretions and went boldly where other teams would not. Who knows how far either would have fallen in the draft if the Nets hadn’t taken chances on them at #22 (Marcus) and #17 (Sean). Both were trumpeted by the Nets, particularly Ed Stefanski, as lottery picks on talent alone. But talent alone doesn’t make it in the NBA.

Rod Thorn should know better.

In "Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever", Filip Bondy notes Thorn had been badly burned in drafts before he took Michael Jordan with the smartest pick in NBA history. And no one knew better than the NBA’s former disciplinarian how immaturity can ruin a career or a team.

Bondy recalls Thorn’s biggest regret (other than calling tails in 1979 and losing a coin toss that the Lakers GM won, taking Magic Johnson). In 1982, Thorn picked Quintin Dailey, a "supremely talented" but immature guard at #6 in the draft. It went downhill fast.

"…in a basketball sense he was a logical choice as the sixth overall pick, even ahead of the next choice, solid forward Clark Kellogg. But Thorn ignored a bunch of red flags and off-court problems that made Dailey a dangerous selection. By the time the Bulls tabbed him on draft day, Dailey had been charged with attacking a student nurse in a dorm room on the San Francisco campus. Eventually, Dailey would negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the woman, but some public contrition was demanded if this rookie were to gain acceptance in Chicago. Instead, Dailey demonstrated something best described not as defiance but as indifference. A sincere statement of apology or remorse might have gone a long way. It was not forthcoming. When Chicago sportswriters asked Dailey on draft day if he regretted some of his actions, Dailey responded, "No. I am just going to put that whole thing behind me and concentrate on playing basketball and having a long, successful career."

"By the time he played his first game with the Bulls in the fall, women's groups were picketing outside Chicago Stadium and Thorn was hunkered down in his office, already ruing his decision. Dailey would go on to have drug and weight problems in a long but largely wasted career, while Thorn would be terribly embarrassed by the whole episode.

"’If I had only known some of those things," Thorn would say as much to himself as to anyone listening."

In terms of scale, neither of the Williams’ transgressions were as disreputable as Dailey’s but some of Bondy’s words have a familiar ring to them…"supremely talented", "indifference", "weight problems", "if I had only known…"

No one can complain about the Nets’ picks in the 2008 draft class. The worst thing you can say about any of them is that Lopez has bouts of self-doubt and Chris Douglas-Roberts doesn’t know the meaning of the term. Hell, they even tried to acquire a late second round pick to take Jaycee Carroll, a former Mormon missionary!

The Nets may have learned their lesson. In discussing whether the Nets were interested in Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah, two talented but troubled Chicago forwards, Iannazzone wrote in his blog Friday, "one of the Nets' concerns was the character issue. They're so big on that now more than ever."

It’s no wonder.