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Marvin Williams Sr. Is More Than Just An NBA Dad

Drew Maresca caught up with Marvin Williams Sr., author of Secondary Break: An NBA Dad’s Story, to discuss his son’s time in Atlanta, how he feels his career would be different today and LaVar Ball.

Drew Maresca

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Marvin Williams Sr., the father of 15-year veteran Marvin Williams Jr., is not shy. On the contrary, he’s so outspoken about his life and experience that he wrote a book about it – Secondary Break: An NBA Dad’s Story. And he’s also outspoken about his son and how he was developed as a professional basketball player.

“I think Marvin could have been developed better and utilized better – he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft,” Williams Sr. recently told Basketball Insiders.

But while Williams Sr. is an outspoken advocate of the game of basketball, racial equality and a number of other topics that are important to him, he’s not a show-off and he doesn’t say any more than he must. He’s the anti-LaVar Ball, an NBA-dad who tries to drive narratives about his sons and their basketball careers instead of advocating for them. Unlike Ball, Williams Sr. is calculated and deliberate, recognizing the difference between speech as a means of making a point and talking to hear yourself speak.

“I feel like LaVar has done a terrible job,” Williams Sr. said. “And let me tell you why.”

“Chris Paul’s dad and I have an organization called Fathers and Men of Professional Basketball,” Williams Sr. explained. “What our group is about is letting people know that [the media] were portraying black athletes as only having moms, not dads. But Chris’ dad has been in his life his whole life, I have been in Marvin’s life his whole life. But when you’re in public getting introduced, they look at you like you’re crazy.”

“I’ve had people say, ‘You must be his step dad.’ But that’s the narrative in the NBA,” Williams Sr. continued. “We’re trying to let people know that there are dads that are in their kids’ lives.

Williams Sr.’s path began at the height of the civil rights movement in Brooklyn, NY. Predictably, the Black Panthers were influential in his upbringing.

“Their goal was all about taking care of the black community because the government wasn’t,” Williams Sr. explained. “They would step in and feed the poor community, protect them, fight for them and just pay attention to what was going on in black communities at that time.”

Williams Sr.’s childhood was split between New York and the South, including an impressive high school basketball career in North Carolina. Despite receiving multiple scholarship offers, he decided to forego basketball to join the Navy. He had his son while enrolled and he landed in Seattle, where there was less overt racism than Williams Sr. was used to. Still, there was enough for Williams Jr. to learn about racism without his dad needing to explain it.

“The funny thing is, Seattle was different,” Williams Sr. said. “Marvin was raised in a military town. I never felt that [racism]. But his uncle used to have run-ins with the police all the time, so he saw it first-hand.

“The conversation [between Marvin and I] didn’t take place, he just saw it and he understood what was going on,” Williams Sr. continued. “And then when I had my incident with the police, I sat down and explained it to him. Because when it happened, people in his school were picking on him saying his daddy got locked up. So, I had to sit him down, but his uncle had already spoken to him about that. I think he picked it all up really quick.”

Williams Sr. had a run-in with the police of Bremerton, Washington on New Year’s Eve in 2000. A portion of Secondary Break is dedicated to explaining what happened and why. Despite that setback and numerous other challenges, Williams Sr. finds himself with connections in basketball that any fan of the game would kill for.

“That’s God’s doing,” Williams Sr. said about the place he’s achieved in the basketball community. “I was put in the place that I came from and put in the place where I met the right people. And it trickled down to my son – Marvin’s been blessed. I put him with Jim Tanner at Tandem Sports, who I think is one of the best agents in the world.”

As mentioned above, the list of people to whom Williams Sr. has ingratiated himself includes the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan.

“[Jordan] outworked everybody,” he said. “I knew once he went to Carolina, that his game was going to a whole different level.

“I was competitive. We were friends off the court, but once we got between those lines, we weren’t friends, and that included Mike.”

But the list of legends in his Rolodex doesn’t end with Jordan. It also includes one of the most respected men, on and off of the court, in the broader basketball community – John Lucas II. Lucas II is currently a player development coach for the Houston Rockets. He is a 14-year NBA veteran, and was formerly the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lucas II has also served as an assistant coach on numerous occasions and has spent a great deal of time and energy severing as a mentor to individual players, helping them overcome addiction issues. Specifically, Lucas coached an NBA-sponsored team in the USBL in the early 1990s that brought on Williams Sr.

“John has done a lot for a lot of NBA players. For me, he just gave me an opportunity,” Williams Sr. said. “I ran into him four or five years ago in Vegas. I thanked him for the opportunity. I used to watch him when he was in the league. He was tough.

“I liked that he was looking for guys to give second chances, too. It’s wonderful if there’s someone that can give people a helping hand.”

Williams Sr. was raised in a different era in which basketball prospects didn’t have an established system through which prospects are identified and streamlined to brand endorsements, colleges and, ultimately, the pros. Williams Sr. played at a time when word-of-mouth was relied on for scouting takes, and the best players didn’t always pursue basketball.

“With social media, I would have been in the NBA, for sure,” Williams Sr. said. “It’s all about exposure. I was [in] Division-1 playing ball, but there were only a couple of guys that could really hoop. Back then, if you couldn’t score on the SATs you’d go to the NAIT division.

“Back then, if word got out about me,” Williams Sr. mused. “I know I would’ve been in the league.”

Williams Sr. suffered the fate of many a pre-modern player – without the infrastructure provided by Nike, Adidas and the NCAA, he was left to fend for himself. But his son came up differently.

Williams Jr. was quickly identified as a strong prospect and was held in high esteem by scouts and coaches all over the nation. That led to him accepting a full scholarship to North Carolina, where he won an NCAA Championship and entered the NBA Draft after just one collegiate season. Williams Jr. was selected No. 2 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2005 NBA Draft – two spots before Chris Paul. Still, Williams Sr. believes that his son could have had an even better career had he been developed more deliberately.

“At that time, if you came in as the first or second pick in the draft, they used to build the whole team around you,” Williams recalled. “You were the guy that was going to take the franchise to the next level. When Marvin went to Atlanta, that wasn’t the case.

“Everything was built around Joe Johnson, the owner was captivated with him,” Williams Sr. continued. “That general manager at the time [Billy Knight] was so far ahead of his time that people didn’t even realize what he was doing until now.

“[Knight] kept picking forwards and everyone was asking why, but they were some versatile forwards. And then with [Mike Woodson], I think he felt like Marvin was coddled at Carolina, which he wasn’t. He’s always worked hard. But Woody never gave him credit for his work ethic. Had Woody done a better job – and as a black coach, he was more concerned about keeping his job instead of developing Marvin as a second option – they could’ve done something special.”

But Williams Sr. doesn’t blame Woodson. Instead, he believes it’s a systemic issue. “Take a look at Kenny Gattison, who coached Marvin in Atlanta,” Williams Sr. explained. “I think he would’ve been an incredible head coach. He’s currently the vice president of the retired players association. He was a big man, though, so he wasn’t allowed to coach.

“When it comes to Blacks and equality, I mean, you have a white guy running the NBA, and you have white owners. You just don’t have as much power [given to Black people]. Everybody wants to win – it used to be that they were picking guys because they were white. White guys are given more opportunities to mess up and fail. Black guys, it’s all about winning. Marvin, when he was in Atlanta, I think the pressure that Woodson felt played a big role in his approach.”

Ultimately, Williams Sr. allowed his son to make his own decisions, allowing his son and his representatives to decide what was best for them. Once his son entered the NBA, he became a sounding board at – but more often than not, he was just a dad.

“I got an offer when I was younger to coach Marvin. I don’t want to be on the bench coaching my son,” Williams Sr. said. “You coach the kid all day, get in the car, they hear your mouth the whole ride. Then, in the house, they hear you all day. Eventually they’ll shut down on you.

“I’ve done a lot of individual coaching with the girls’ game,” Williams Sr. continued. “I’ve always told him, ‘if you want to play, come to me and I’ll show you how to do it. But I’m not going to force you to play.’ When Marvin got to Carolina, it wasn’t my job to coach Marvin beyond individual private work. And then, once you’re in the league, that becomes the agent’s job. They represent that player. I wanted to be a support system, not the coach or the mouth piece. And I would never go to the media and bad mouth a deal. That’s just not my place.”

But even as a sounding board, Williams Sr. recognized where his role began and ended. He tried to help his son make decisions without voicing his own preferences.

“We took opportunities as they came,” Williams Sr. explained. “As a parent, you want your kid to be put in the best possible position to be successful. If he had deals, Marvin’s agent would come to us. All I wanted him to do was to have a chance to win a championship.

“With Charlotte, I mean, Marvin loved Charlotte. But he also knew he was getting older,” Williams Sr. said. “They were moving in a different direction. He decided to move on because he knew he only had so many years left. The move to go to Milwaukee was about getting a chance to win,” Williams Sr. continued.

“I think he just wanted to get back into the playoffs and see what he could do to help a team.”

With his experience and positive outlook, it’s easy to imagine a world in which Williams Sr. joins an NBA coaching staff – but it’s equally as predictable to assume that his son will grow into a coach.

“I do know that he doesn’t want to be involved heavily as a coach,” Williams Sr. explained. “He’s gotten some offers to coach, but he definitely wants to be involved in the NBA. It’s a great fraternity, with so many different directions you can go with basketball. He’s enjoying himself, enjoying time with his kids and he’s going to figure out what’s next.”

Like his son, Williams Sr. is taking his next opportunity seriously, vetting all possibilities. But for now, he’s happy promoting his book – Secondary Break: An NBA Dad’s Story – and talking about what he’s learned as a man, a basketball player and an NBA dad.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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