Many people didn’t think Sean Williams would still be a Net this late in August. He had embarrassed the franchise on three different occasions last season—with two arrests and such disruptive behavior in the D-League that his coach kindly asked the Nets to take him back.
It could be that the Nets can’t get rid of him. Fred Kerber in his Post blog reported in mid-July, "as for trade interest, we're told Josh Boone has his admirers around the league. Sean Williams is definitely another story." Translation: he’s seen as a problem child, at best.
But the 6’10" (really 6’8 ½") Williams remains on the roster. In the past year, only one trade rumor has surfaced—one what would sent him to Golden State for Marco Belinelli, a rumor that won’t be revived. Belinelli has since been moved to Toronto.
Williams could still be dealt in a salary dump or as an add-on in a trade of one of the Nets expiring contracts. He’s still on his rookie contract, meaning the Nets or whoever he’s playing for have until October 31 to decide whether to pick up his option for 2010-11. He will be paid $1.6 million this season and if his option is picked up, $2.5 million in 2010-11. With the Nets trying to conserve every dime for the 2010 free agent rush, it seems doubtful he will be a Net next summer even if he survives this one.
The Nets brass hasn’t said much about him this summer. His name only surfaced a few times in the media. He was seen working out in Dallas early in June with Chris Bosh, Acie Law, Alexis Ajinca, Mo Ager and Quinton Ross. By mid-July, he was working out at the Nets practice facility with fellow big men Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, and Boone.
Kiki Vandeweghe seemed to hint his days were done when in a mid-July interview with the Nets’ Ben Couch, he failed to mention Williams and only Williams in an assessment of the team. Moreover, the Nets’ acquisition of Tony Battie and Eduardo Najera's return to health can't be positives for him. They just pushed him down the bench. Battie wasn’t just a back-up for Dwight Howard. He filled in for Rashard Lewis at power forward. Najera is a physical if not spectacular defender…and like Battie a mature veteran.
Still, in the past few weeks, there have been indications that maybe, just maybe, the Nets haven’t given up on Williams completely and have once again given him that one last chance to prove his potential.
The biggest indicator came earlier this month when the Nets sent him to Nugget assistant coach Tim Grgurich’s development camp along with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Terrence Williams. Vandeweghe went with them to the camp, where media and agents are prohibited from attending workouts. He spoke again with Couch on his return.
Vandeweghe had high praise for TWill and talked about CDR’s work ethic this summer and how hard he has worked to improve his shooting and ball handling. Neither was surprising. Vandeweghe likes both players. What he had to say about Sean Williams, however, was surprising at least on the surface:
Sean Williams showed great improvement over the last two years he was there – I go every year so I’ve seen him. Sean was one of the most athletic players there, and he showed his responsibility by being on time, by really focusing and by learning a lot. You could see Sean’s development through the week and he demonstrated his extreme athleticism. He was very, very impressive.
If you wanted to parse it all out, there was some damning by faint praise—"showed his responsibility by being on time", and some obvious comments—"demonstrated his extreme athleticism". Still, Vandeweghe did note Swat’s focus, a past problem, and called him "very, very impressive".
Some might say Vandeweghe was trying to inflate Williams’ trade value, but praising him on the Nets’ own website isn’t going to impress any NBA general manager. More importantly, every NBA team had representatives in Las Vegas. They saw what Vandeweghe saw. They either buy it or they don’t.
We have heard all this before, of course. Vince Carter called Williams the most improved player in training camp last summer. Then he came out and asked that the Nets not exercise their option on him for 2009-10. He saw the Nets were committed to other big men younger than him: Lopez, Yi, Ryan Anderson. He sulked and sat on the bench as the three 20-year-olds learned the game and moved ahead of him in the rotation.
Williams has always had his supporters. Rod Thorn in particular has defended him over the past two years, noting his potential. In two town halls with season ticket-holders last February, Thorn said Williams is in the "upper one or two percent" of NBA players in terms of athleticism and said he could guard a wide variety of players because of "his tremendous lateral quickness." He even suggested that his focus and game had gotten better since his return from his disastrous time in the D-League.
But he also had to admit that Williams "is 6’8 ½" in shoes" and in spite of his shot-blocking ability, he's "not an NBA center". He said then then that team's hope is that Williams can develop as a power forward in the league, possibly learning how to guard NBA small forwards as well.
That, of course, was before Williams was arrested in Lone Tree, CO, on March 16 for tossing a computer monitor across a mobile phone store. That resulted in him being charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct charges. He quickly enrolled in an anger management course, re-enrolled at Boston College and volunteered at a nonprofit initiative for disadvantaged youth.
The stories that followed the arrest had a single theme: a kid with a good heart but without responsibility.
We’ve heard of no progress on the legal front. Maybe there’s been some, maybe there hasn’t. Still, with his Colorado criminal case apparently unresolved, it seems unlikely the Nets will be able to get much value for him in return. A guilty plea would likely result in a league suspension at the start of next season, making him even less attractive.
The question is whether Sean Williams can bring anything if he stays. He is now deep in the rotation but is still only 22, making him the fifth youngest player on the team after Lopez, Yi, Twill, and CDR, but he’s already got more mileage, more baggage than the rest of them combined.