This isn’t the career trajectory many predicted for Derrick Williams after he recorded two standout seasons at the University of Arizona and was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Now in his sixth NBA season, Williams has already been traded, hit the free agency market twice and is now playing for his fourth team.
Williams appeared in a career high 80 games last season as a member of the New York Knicks and posted averages of 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the floor (also a career high). This past summer Williams inked a one-year deal with the Miami HEAT worth a reported $4.6 million.
Although Williams posted his best statistical campaign since 2013, the lucrative multi-year offers some of his peers secured last summer never arrived at his doorstep. Instead, Williams chose to sign with the HEAT, a team in transition, on a one-year deal where nightly playing time wasn’t fully guaranteed.
For Williams, even though he had interest from other teams that would have likely led to more minutes in the nightly rotation, free agency was about plotting his own destiny in the league.
“[The] free agency process is kind of like, knowing where you want to go and having the opportunities in different places, and having the opportunity to go wherever you want to go,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s up to your choice and free agency led me to Miami. I felt like this was the best opportunity for myself, for my family and to help this team.
“With Dwyane Wade, and Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson and those guys leaving and without Chris Bosh this season, I thought it was gonna be a perfect fit for myself getting into the season and really contributing right away. We’ve been struggling so far this season, but it’s still early. We’re only a quarter done of the season.”
Prior to joining Miami, Williams spent time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks in his first five seasons in the league. All three of his previous teams have spent the better part of the decade playing sub .500 basketball in constant rebuilding situations.
Williams acknowledges part of the reason he decided to join the HEAT was due to their tradition of winning and track record of success.
“For sure. In 2006 when they won that first championship, to now with three championships, they know what it takes,” Williams said. “For championship teams, it takes ups and downs, it’s not always going to be good the whole entire season. You’ve got to go through the ups and downs throughout the season to perfect at the end.
“So that’s what we’re going through right now with this season, and trying to find the right fit, and different guys being hurt as well. But that’s no excuse, we want to continue to play hard and aggressive every single game, and when some of our guys get healthy, they’ll be back too.”
If the playoffs started today, Miami (8-17) would be out of the playoff mix. To make matters worse, Williams’ former team, the New York Knicks, is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference. Despite this, Williams remains positive about Miami’s ability to improve moving forward.
“We’ve built a lot of chemistry,” Williams said. “Different characters come out when times are tight. With this team, we got a lot of warriors. “It’s gonna be important for us to keep building that chemistry to prolong the season as well. Get into the latter half of the season knowing what we messed up on early. So it’s a good test for us.”
The departure of Wade, Deng, Johnson and the health issues of Bosh have all contributed to Miami’s sub. 500 play early on. But the team has also been ravaged by injuries at key spots. Only one player, center Hassan Whiteside, has appeared in all 25 of the team’s games.
“Oh man, this is probably the first time in my career that we’ve had pretty much just as many guys on the IR as playing, as active,” Williams said. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can play, opportunities for everybody out here on the court. We need to get the win, that’s the main focus.”
Miami has lost seven of their past 10 contests and their next five games are at home versus Indiana, Los Angeles (Clippers), Boston, Orlando and Los Angeles (Lakers). Miami’s players will have an opportunity to contribute and turn things around, including Williams, which is what he was looking for when he signed on with the HEAT.
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