“There’s always one talented young guy who gets made into an example when a new coach is trying to instill a culture change.”
I wrote that earlier this week in reference to the Philadelphia 76ers and third-year power forward Marreese Speights, whose status within the organization has gone from future building block to nearly out of the rotation under first-year coach Doug Collins. In New Jersey, as Avery Johnson attempts to turn around a franchise that hit rock bottom last season, Terrence Williams has become the other Speights.
Today the Nets announced T-Will, a second-year swingman, has been assigned to its D-League affiliate Springfield Armor, the same week in which he was essentially suspended for breaking team rules.
This was supposed to be Williams’ breakout year. He was one of the few bright spots during the historically bad 12-70 campaign last season, averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in over 22 minutes per game, including one triple-double (27 pts, 13 rebs, 10 asts) against Chicago in April and seven other double-doubles. Before the Nets acquired wing players Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow in the offseason, T-Will was expected slide right into a starting role at the two or the three, and was even considered a poor man’s LeBron James by some observers.
But Williams has been on Avery’s bad side seemingly since Day One. In training camp it was reported that Avery didn’t like the 6-6, 220-pound Williams as a small forward (his natural position), and then he lost the starting two-guard job to Morrow. Williams was still playing significant minutes off the bench in the Nets’ first few games before suffering an abdominal strain, but even after he said he was 100 percent, he barely got off the bench.
Earlier this week, Johnson said he was sitting Williams for two games for repeatedly breaking team rules, which reports later said stemmed from Williams being late to practice multiple times. Today, Williams was sent to the D-League.
Is this the right move? Some say it’s not a good look for the D-League to be viewed as a punishment for young players — the NBA equivalent of “Go to your room, and you better not have fun in there!” — but I don’t think it’s so bad if said young players get a necessary attitude adjustment out of it. If Johnson thinks Williams is taking his spot in the NBA for granted, perhaps a few weeks of bus rides, cheap hotels and “nightlife” in road cities like Sioux Falls, S.D., will change that. Then again, Williams could enter the D-League like Terry Dehere in his memorable stint on ESPN’s “Life in the D-League” reality show, when the NBA veteran Dehere joined the Charleton Lowgators with a full-on diva “I don’t belong here” mindset and alienated everyone around him.
But I don’t know the situation. In all my interactions with T-Will, who I’ve been covering since he was at Rainier Beach High School in our hometown Seattle, he’s a humble guy who knows reaching the NBA was a dream that required a lot of hard work. He wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American who cruised into the League on his potential — he turned himself into a pro during his time at Louisville and always speaks highly of Rick Pitino and the coaching staff for helping him get to where he always wanted to be. Does he really need a D-League demotion, or is Avery making Williams an example as part of a long-term goal?
Hopefully Williams is strong enough to learn whatever lessons he needs and regain status as a productive part of his team’s future. Or maybe another team’s future.