John Tomase

NBA Finals a reminder of Grant Williams' missed opportunity

Celtics vs. Mavericks is a battle of two clubs that decided to move on from Williams.

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Grant Williams is in the news this week. On Monday, he'll be the featured speaker at the Middle Tennessee High School Sports Awards honoring the best student athletes from the Volunteer State. It's on brand for the civically minded Williams, whose mom is a NASA engineer.

It also must be said that Grant Williams is not in the news this week. When the Mavericks and Celtics tip off for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, Williams won't be in either uniform, even though he recently wore both of them.

Among the storylines big and small of this Finals -- Kyrie Irving's return, Luka Doncic vs. Jayson Tatum, Kristaps Porzingis vs. his old team -- there's also this: It's a battle of two clubs that decided they'd be better off without Williams. One of them is going to win it all.

The Celtics made this choice last summer when they retooled their roster and let Williams depart in restricted free agency via a sign-and-trade.

The contract year that many of us had expected never materialized, so it wasn't a difficult decision. Williams' last big moment in a Celtics uniform was a decidedly dubious one, as he jawed with Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler before the latter took over Game 2 of the conference finals to give Miami a commanding lead.

The Mavericks weren't dissuaded. They signed the burly forward to a four-year, $54 million deal, envisioning him as a tough and experienced addition to their frontcourt alongside MVP candidate Luka Doncic.

It didn't work out. Williams reportedly showed up out of shape but with his mouth intact, which won't surprise anyone who watched him yap throughout his Celtics career. What was largely endearing here – former teammate Jayson Tatum clearly loved him – proved irritating in Dallas and the Mavericks shipped him to his hometown Hornets for P.J. Washington as part of a midseason roster rebuild that kickstarted their run to the Finals.

That leaves Williams in an awkward position. Not only is he not playing, but if he wants a ring, then he'll need to root for the team that jettisoned him in February. Given his longer and happier ties to the Celtics, it wouldn't be surprising if he's pulling for former teammates like Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford, but he can only earn a ring from the Mavericks.

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Let the record show that Williams authored some legitimately great moments in a Celtics uniform, none bigger than his seven 3-pointers in Game 7 to eliminate the Bucks en route to the 2022 NBA Finals. The Celtics lost to the Warriors, but it seemed possible that Williams would carve out a Draymond Green-lite role for himself in Boston as an instigator and big-bodied defender.

Williams instead played himself right out of head coach Joe Mazzulla's rotation with inconsistent effort. He was benched for the first time last March and took five DNPs in the playoffs. By the time the season ended, he suspected his days in Boston were numbered, which the pre-draft trade for former Mavs big man Kristaps Porzingis effectively confirmed.

So next week he'll return to Tennessee, where he was a first-team All-American in college, and give back to his community. Williams was many things in Boston – affable, loquacious, occasionally frustrating – but he was never a champion.

His former teammates – on both sides – will attempt to finish that job without him.

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