After grinding his way through the NBA postseason last year despite dealing with a surgically repaired left knee, Celtics center Robert Williams was able to take some time off and, he hoped, allow the knee to fully heal. But as training camp is set to get underway next week, Williams has gotten some bad news—according to a source, he will have arthroscopic surgery on the knee, which will keep him out for all of camp and likely into the early weeks of the season.
It is a tough blow for Williams, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the knee in late March, and was expected to miss the early part of the postseason. Williams, though, surprised everyone by coming back for Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs, during the Celtics’ sweep of the Nets.
He played well when he was on the floor but struggled with fluid buildup and missed the last four games of the Celtics’ second-round win over Milwaukee. Williams missed Game 3 of the conference finals against Miami, but played in the rest of Boston’s playoff games thereafter.
Williams is expected to need four-to-six weeks to recover.
Williams Had a Breakout 2021-22 Season
Williams, entering his fifth season, had a breakout year in 2021-22, which was the healthiest season of his career. He averaged 10.0 points and 9.6 rebounds, with 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocked shots. According to NBA stats, Williams had a defensive rating of 103.4 points per 100 possessions and an offensive rating of 113.4 points per 100 possessions. His net rating of 10.0 was second among the team’s regulars, behind only Jayson Tatum.
Most important, Williams played 61 games, the most of his career. He played in only 113 games in his first three NBA seasons, which were mostly shortened by injury.
While a second surgery on the same knee just six months after the first surgery is cause for concern, the hope for Williams is that the procedure can be done well enough ahead of the start of the season to prevent him from missing significant time later in the year.
Celtics’ Options Behind Robert Williams
Williams’ surgery comes shortly after the Celtics lost one of their top offseason acquisitions, forward Danilo Gallinari, to an ACL injury during the run-up to this year’s EuroBasket tournament. Gallinari was expected to be a key piece off the bench, mostly at power forward but with some minutes at center possible, too.
Now, the Celtics are likely to start the season very thin at the center spot. Presumably, Al Horford will start at the 5 and Grant Williams will be the starting 4, which was the Celtics’ lineup during the playoffs when Williams was out.
But behind Horford will be journeyman center Luke Kornet, who has cycled through five teams in five seasons in the NBA and has just 35 starts on his resume. The Celtics also have summer league star Mfiondu Kabengele on a two-way deal, and there is a chance the team could lean on him early in the year.
The Celtics have 12 roster spots and are likely to add two more players, though they will be mostly looking at wings with those spots. That could change, though, with the Williams news. There are experienced veteran centers to be had on the market—Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Cody Zeller, Hassan Whiteside and former Celtics Greg Monroe and Tristan Thompson among them—but Boston could be willing to give Kornet and/or Kabengele an opportunity to prove themselves.
The Celtics do hold two traded-player exceptions among their assets, too, and could potentially take on a new big man via trade.