Chris Forsberg

The Grant Williams dilemma: Celtics at a crossroads with RFA forward

If the Celtics extend Grant Williams, they'd have to cut costs elsewhere.

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Five days after an unexpected DNP, Grant Williams found himself at the free-throw line in Cleveland shooting a pair of free throws with 0.8 seconds on the clock with a chance to push his team to victory.

"Imma make 'em both," Williams confidently barked at Cavaliers superstar Donovan Mitchell in a tie game as Cleveland did everything it could to get inside Williams' head before the attempts.

Williams clanged the first freebie off the front rim. The second spun out off the back rim. The Celtics lost in overtime.

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This was certainly not the way Williams had envisioned the 2022-23 season playing out. He banked on himself before the season, shunning a lucrative extension offer from the Celtics in hopes of a grander payday. But in less than a three-week stretch in March, Williams logged two DNPs, playing sparingly in other games, and, with a chance to be the hero in Utah at the end of a long road trip, got blocked on a freelanced final drive attempt in a one-point loss.

Five more DNPs awaited in the postseason. To Williams' credit, he was ready when his number was finally called in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, and he put together a series of solid games as the Celtics nearly made history while rallying out of an 0-3 hole. 

Williams went cold over the final three games and played only 16 minutes in Boston’s lopsided Game 7 loss. He left TD Garden with a Santa Claus-sized trash bag slung over his shoulder while wandering into an uncertain summer.

Editor's Note: This is Part 4 of Chris Forsberg's five-part series on how the new CBA impacts the Celtics' future. You can read Parts 1, 2 and 3 below.

The Celtics are expected to make Williams a restricted free agent later this month by extending an $8.5 million qualifying offer. The question is whether a rival could swoop in and outbid the cash-strapped Celtics, or whether Boston can find a number that satisfies both sides moving forward.

The decision surrounding Williams might be Boston’s biggest storyline, assuming, of course, that Jaylen Brown pens the supermax some time after July 1 and, at least temporarily, calms any trade chatter around him. 

On one hand, Williams bolstered his reputation as a versatile 3-and-D forward while shooting 39.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc and displaying defensive versatility. But his late-season roller coaster ride makes it hard to know exactly how the Celtics -- and, more importantly, their rivals -- view Williams.

Thin on players capable of filling big-man roles, the Celtics should want Williams back. There’s a world where he’s a potential starter if the team wanted to ease the load on Al Horford by moving him to a backup role. But the question is whether Boston’s money is best spent on Williams given head coach Joe Mazzulla’s apparent reluctance to play him in spots last season.

Beggars can’t be choosers. If the Celtics don’t have a viable option to add an impact forward by trading a roster player, then they need to be open-minded to paying Williams. Re-signing Williams and supermaxing Brown would force the team to really ponder cost-cutting moves, which might force the issue with one of the team’s high-priced guards.

"Grant’s a good player. Grant has been a good player," Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said after the season, while admitting he couldn’t comment on Williams' impending free agency. "But he is a good player who was on a really deep team. And, with that, with the addition of (Malcolm) Brogdon last year, that was going to require that guys that had gotten a little bit more opportunity weren't going to get as much. And that, obviously, hit a few of our players, Payton (Pritchard) included, and Grant was another one of them. 

"But everybody around the league knows that Grant can add value to a winning team. We know that. We're big fans of his and I thought he did a lot of good things when he got the opportunity. But I don't think it was an easy roster to always decide who would play because we did have a lot of good players."

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