Shawne Williams: This World, Then the Taillights

Dave Murphy —  January 10, 2014

Shawne Williams was given his walking papers on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Lakers roster now stands at 14. Ownership will save about a million bucks in combined salary and luxury tax.

The story was covered here, and by other Lakers beat writers, but didn’t exactly ripple out into national headlines. Williams arrived in Los Angeles this past September and appeared in 32 games.

The Lakers are in a tailspin at the moment, that’s pretty clear to see. They’re 1-9 in their last 10 games and face the Clippers on Friday. Five key players remain injured and unable to contribute. It’s not a stretch to say that the team’s collective battery is running low.

Williams wasn’t taking up room at the end of the bench. He was a significant part of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.

From Ramona Shelburne for ESPN Los Angeles, D’Antoni spoke honestly about a guy that was more than a number.

“It’s hard for everybody. You do get attached to guys you enjoy walking down an alley with. He will fight for you in a heartbeat and he was a voice in the locker room for us. I could trust him basketball-wise, anything I told him. He did the best he could do. He was good. I’ll miss him.”

For management, the issue was a financial one. If Williams hadn’t been released by 5 pm on Tuesday, the remainder of his minimum salary contract would have been guaranteed, along with the resulting dollar-for-dollar penalty.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement is aimed at creating parity for owners across the league. For the NBA’s lowest-paid players, parity often means a trip to the unemployment line.

Per the Shelburne article, D’Antoni hopes the player with a checked past, will get another shot in the NBA:

“It would be a shame not to. In this business we put labels on people and you don’t get to really know them. I put a label on him before I got to know him. I know what happens. It’s the easy way out. But he’s earned [another opportunity]. I hope somebody bites on it. They’ll be surprised and be happy with it.”

Shawne Williams grew up in the badlands of South Memphis in a neighborhood described by the Community Redevelopment Agency as a “menace to public safety, health, morals and welfare”. He lost his older brother Ramone to gang violence and has not always made the best decisions, peppering truncated basketball jobs with arrests for weed and sizzurp. Taken as the 15th pick of the 2005 draft, he bounced around the league, being variously traded or waived. His biggest impact was with the Knicks during the 2010-11 season.

D’Antoni was his coach at the time in New York and not enthused about a training camp pickup with a bad reputation. Williams began that season with a slew of DNPs but 18 games in, got a chance to play. He impressed his coach and ultimately earned a regular slot as a stretch-four, averaging a career-best 40.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Williams appeared in 25 games the following season for the New Jersey Nets and didn’t play at all in 2011-12. That winter, he was popped once again in Memphis. According to the affidavit, the 26 year-old said, “Officer, I ain’t going to lie to you, there’s a blunt in the car and some syrup.”

This past summer, D’Antoni lobbied management. He had recognized a player’s willingness to do the right thing that one season in New York. He also might have wanted a little extra toughness on a team that’s not always known for it. From all accounts, Williams was a model citizen with the Purple and Gold.

In a recent TWC Backstage Lakers segment, Williams spoke about the opportunity to come to Los Angeles:

“The Lakers is one of those franchises, that when you get a call from them, nothing else don’t matter at the time. Coming from what I come from, going through what I had been through, I was ecstatic. Y’know, it was a blessing. It was something I prayed for, probably one of the happiest calls of my life, saying the Lakers was going to give me a chance.”

Days after the segment taped, Williams was waived while on the road with the team. The Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks that night, followed by a loss to the Houston Rockets.

Williams has never come close to averaging double figures in the NBA but he makes his presence felt. He doesn’t mind the blue collar work under the basket, will alter shots and snag loose balls. He’s a streaky shooter but can hit from long range at opportune moments.

He was also a favorite among his teammates. Earlier in the season, Williams took exception when Kings center DeMarcus Cousins gave Jordan Farmar a little extra momentum, heading for the hardwood. Williams confronted Cousins and they both picked up technicals.

Per Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, this is how the Lakers forward explained it:

“Everybody in this locker room is part of a team. We’re a family. Anybody who tries to mess with our family or do a dirty play, I’m going to stand up for them on the court”

Los Angeles won that night, 100-86.

The team just doesn’t seem to have the same feeling of togetherness lately. Whether it’s a cumulative effect of injuries and fatigue, or simply the disillusionment of a downhill skid, things aren’t right. The loss of Williams won’t make it any easier.

The Lakers are still a family business but it somehow doesn’t feel like family anymore. The slide rules have come out and perhaps there’s no turning back—the team assembled a roster of short term contracts this season in an attempt to restructure the future. Williams is now gone and there’s nine other Lakers who don’t have contracts next season.

The freewheeling days of Jerry Buss are over, sadly. There’s a new world order. Basketball is changing, business is changing and the way we cover the news is changing.

Somewhere a car turns a corner and taillights fade. The Lakers’ world just got a little bit smaller.

Dave Murphy