LAS VEGAS — Early Monday night, now-former Celtic Grant Williams was sitting courtside in the Cox Pavilion at UNLV, joking with Mark Cuban as they took in the Mavericks summer league game. Their Mavericks summer league game.
Williams, the venerated Dork Knight, was 2,381 miles from Boston, but it seemed even further. In the stages of basketball grief over the loss of his place with the Celtics, he had skipped past anger with negotiations this year and last, and past dribbling depression over the loss of teammate bonds. He’d gone straight to acceptance. Happiness even.
Not many leave a team that got within a game of a trip to the Finals this spring after going six games in the championship series the year before and express joy at joining a club with two major stars and several questions.
But Williams, a restricted free agent this summer, believes his departure in a sign-and-trade for second round pick-age was essentially a fait accompli. While the transaction has largely been characterized in a financial frame — the new collective bargaining agreement and the encumbrances that are visited on teams that hit the dreaded second tax apron, he believes there was more to it.
“Yeah, I don’t know if it was fully that,” Williams told Heavy Sports. “The CBA can make it difficult for teams, but it doesn’t PREVENT teams from making the moves they really want to make.”
So does he think that even if the money didn’t matter he could still be de-Celtic-ed?
“Potentially,” Williams said. “I don’t know. It was one of those things where I think both sides just did what’s best for each.”
Williams Was an Instigator for the Celtics
In other words, maybe the Celts weren’t sure the money he commanded — four years, $54 million — was in alignment with the role he would have with the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis.
At that price, Williams was a hefty insurance policy. And while someone of Joe Mazzulla’s scrappy nature in his playing days should have appreciated the non-stat sheet stuff in Grant’s game, there was his fall from the rotation for stretches in the playoffs. Dating back to early March in the regular season, Mazzulla removed Williams from a game in Cleveland and twice yelled, “Stop making it about yourself,” as he walked by.
But one has to be concerned about the bottom line effect with the two most floor-burned Celtics are gone. Williams and Marcus Smart were the likeliest of Celtics to push the envelope.
It was franchise patriarch Red Auerbach who’d often say, “I want instigators, not retaliators.”
And the Celts went ahead and said “later” to their ‘gators.
Asked what the Boston defense will look like without him and Smart, Williams said, “I think they’ll have success. Me and Marcus brought the energy and grit, but at the same time I trust and believe that their entire team has the ability to defend. They still have Al (Horford). They still have guys like Kristaps who can move his feet and block shots. Rob (Williams) is one of the best defenders, if not THE best shot-blocking big in the league. Then JT and JB (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown), they’re going to lead the charge. You know, it’s important for them to step up show that dog that they’ve always had. So even without us, I think they’ll be fine.”
Williams, Marcus Smart Now in the West
Williams believes he and Smart will be the game in Dallas and Memphis, respectively.
“Hey, you know, me and Marcus are in a good position,” he said. “We’re both in blue.
“It was a situation where I think I could have stayed and we could have had success, but with the position we would have been in with the logjam, it might have been smarter financially for the team and better opportunity for me to go somewhere else. But it’s one of those things where I wouldn’t have been mad if I’d have stayed, but at the same time I think we both are in a good space now.”
And a year after asking, Williams got the money he was requesting.
“It all worked out,” he said. “I told (the Celtics) at the start that that’s my floor. I got my floor, so it worked out.
“It’s fast paced,” he said of life since realizing he has to move a long distance. “But it’s been a blessing, you know? I’m thankful for a new opportunity, thankful for a team that’s really in a great position to have success. I’m excited just because it’s going to be a great moment to be able to compete with this team.”