A year and a half ago, Terrence Williams(notes) was a prized lottery pick for the rebuilding New Jersey Nets. Eight months ago, he was one of the better players on the squad, averaging nearly 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists a contest in just 30 minutes a night during the month of March.
A few months later, he was upsetting the new New Jersey coaching staff during the summer leagues by gunning during exhibition play. And in the month of November, repeated tardy violations earned Williams a two-game suspension. Further violations, following the suspension, upset Nets coach Avery Johnson so much that he sent the second-year forward to the D-League as punishment.
And that's the first time that's ever happened.
Players have been "sent down" to the D-League before, but it's been for seasoning. A move to allow younger players court time that they wouldn't see in NBA action, in order for them to develop confidence, along with secondary offensive moves or a bit of all-around expertise. But this is the first time the D-League has been used as a disciplinary measure. Williams cannot be happy with being sent to the Springfield Armor, and some of the D-League's most ardent admirers aren't happy with an otherwise-useful organization being used as a punishment.
FanHouse's Matt Moore knows his D-League inside and out, and he doesn't appreciate the developmental organization being used so flippantly:
Williams is a problem child for Johnson. And maybe he's completely justified in his approach to punish the youngster to get him in line. But using the D-League seems like a creative solution for them, when in reality, it's a reckless maneuver that only hurts Williams, the Nets, the D-League, and the NBA. Use the D-League for what it was designed to do: develop players. Don't use it as your own personal timeout corner. You're only hurting yourself.
Moore is right. There's nothing that the D-League can do to make a person like Williams more punctual. If the guy can't be bothered to make the bus on time in the big leagues, what's a trip to a developmental league going to do? And shouldn't it be New Jersey's job to try and instill a sense of professionalism into this, um, professional?
That said, I wonder if the D-League can't help but do something for Williams as a player, if not a person. And, actually, wouldn't a rebirth as a player help change Williams, the person?
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Terrence had red flags -- giant, waving red flags -- surrounding him as he entered the NBA, and he hardly endeared himself to both of his head coaches with the Nets last season. But he also played exceedingly well down the stretch of 2009-10, only to watch as the Nets went out and signed two free-agent wings over the summer in Travis Outlaw(notes) and Anthony Morrow(notes). New Jersey was right to try and add to its decimated roster with those pickups, but to a person like Williams, any perceived slight could throw him completely off balance. Which could have been a reason for the selfish play in the summer leagues.
So while using the D-League as something to embarrass Williams into learning how not to hit the snooze button seems misguided at best, perhaps the Nets could make something out of their clueless maneuver. Maybe Williams -- dominating the ball as he did last spring, working as a point forward for the Springfield Armor as he sets up teammates and plays heaps of minutes -- could rediscover a joy for the pro game that has been lacking of late. Something to, perhaps, rouse him into wanting to come to the arena, on time, every night.
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Because his play with the Nets this season was pitiful, and worthy of a stint in the D-League. Using the Springfield Armor as a punishment tool is a pretty hapless move, to be sure, but Williams was far, far worse than both Outlaw and Morrow this season, and both Outlaw and Morrow have regressed significantly in their first year as members of the Nets. If Williams' chronic tardiness wasn't a factor, there wouldn't be a peep about sending this 39 percent shooting second-year underachiever (who, if we're honest, also looks out of shape) down to get more reps in Springfield.
The Nets, wrong as they are, could turn out to be right. Williams is wrong in every regard, his professionalism lacks in every respect, but he could turn out to be all right. Nobody is looking good with this move, but given an optimistic outlook, this back-handed slight could turn into something productive for both sides.