In one of the most obvious instances of preseason tanking we've been around for, the 2004-era Atlanta Hawks decided to jettison most of the big names that led them to 26 wins during the 2003-04 season for a scab-y core bred to lose as much as possible in 2004-05. Youngish types like rookie Josh Smith and Al Harrington were brought in on the cheap, while expiring contracts belonging to Antoine Walker, Tony Delk and Tom Gugliotta dotted the roster. Kevin Willis played for these guys, and Jon Barry, too. Pig Miller, surreptitiously hiding that toothpick, saw nine minutes of action. This was a terrible team that won 13 games. On purpose.
Their reward for all that? The second pick in the draft. And, after the Milwaukee Bucks possibly did the Hawks a favor and selected Andrew Bogut first overall, the Hawks decided to draft North Carolina freshman Marvin Williams. He of the constant, "when all is said and done, Marvin Williams may have the best career of anyone in this draft"-analysis from those who happen to work on cable TV and be wowed by yet another fluid swingman with athletic gifts.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams were not chosen by Atlanta. Both have moved on to garner MVP consideration and starting roles on teams in Los Angeles and New York; even if they're not starting for that Los Angeles team or that New York team. Marvin Williams, having just turned 19 a week before the draft but having long before turned into a 6-9 glider with all-around potential, was selected by Atlanta. And, in his first season away from the Hawks, the current Utah Jazz veteran is kind of sick of talking about the 2005 draft.
"People talk a lot about expectations and living up to expectations," Williams said, "but I hit them up with the million dollar question every time. My question is: Whose expectations do I have to live up to?"
Williams is 26. The reliable outside shooter has averaged double digits every year he has played in the NBA except his rookie season. The Jazz acquired Williams in exchange for point guard Devin Harris to make room for newly acquired Mo Williams. An 18,000-seat community center bearing Williams' name is being constructed in his hometown of Bremerton, Wash.
Williams is content.
"I don't have to live up to anybody's expectations but my own," he said. "I have to look at myself in the mirror every night. And when I do that, I'm very satisfied with where I came from and what I'm working toward."
I'm good with that. You can beg Marvin to drive a bit more or wish he'd develop a steadier dribble and post-up game, but it's not his fault he's living up to someone else's mistake.
A mistake on several basketball levels, it should be noted. Former Hawks GM Billy Knight was the guy who took a chance on Pau Gasol in Memphis just four years earlier, but he's also the one who littered the Hawk roster with win-now shooters (Glenn Robinson, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jason Terry) and badly whiffed on the Williams selection.
Knight's excuse, shouted to the rafters after the draft and especially after his bosses overruled him on a sign and trade for Joe Johnson a month later, was that picking for need in the NBA draft is always a recipe for disaster. You always take the best player available, if you're selecting in the NBA lottery, because you can always find a replacement for your perceived need either in that draft (with a trade down, to acquire extra assets along the way) or a deal for a veteran later in the offseason.
And he was completely correct in that regard. Save for the fact that he didn't draft the best player available, in Marvin Williams. And that just about 10 out of 10 observers would tell you the same thing all the way back in 2005, even with Marvin's potential still in high regard.
Paul was considered the best player available. Williams, even before he shed his college heft, was considered just a step behind him. This isn't revisionist nonsense — the Hawks were criticized then as much as they are now. And even if you fully commit to the "take the best guy"-ideal, adding another wing in Williams to a team featuring Josh Smith, eventually Joe Johnson, and a player in Al Harrington that you just signed and traded for? Even in that regard, you're stretching it.
Especially on a team that started Tyronn Lue and 34-year-old Kenny Anderson for 66 games in 2004-05.
Williams, at this point, is no seat filler. He's an average player on an average team looking to improve its station. He's done well to come back from a debilitating back ailment, he's a massive upgrade on a Jazz team that was terribly outclassed at the wing position last year, and his expiring contract is a boon for both Utah and Williams' own personal interests. Life is good.
We pride ourselves on watching nearly every game, moving from day to day and not living with imprints created years ago. It's hard, though, to disassociate Williams from the particulars of his NBA initiation. That doesn't mean we're expecting him to play better basketball than Chris Paul or Deron Williams, we didn't expect that 88 months ago. It's just the primary anecdote behind his bio. So it goes.