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

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20 responses to Shawne Williams: This World, Then the Taillights

  1. Dave Murphy: Very interesting read. I like how you used this situation as a microcosm for the overall. Nice.

    And to link Dave’s story above with the prior thread. I will give MD credit for creating the “family” environment in the early season. However as Dave indicates – there is just no way he (or anyone else) can keep and build on that for the future due to financial constraints and other issues. So what to do?

  2. the other Stephen January 10, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Dave, is your goal to write basketball analysis, or eulogies that make me cry? :`-(

  3. I wish he could read this blog and see the complaints of the people about him. Its not fair.

  4. I was not a fan of Williams starting or amount of playing time. Reading this I feel bad. He could have been a ok guy off the bench and sounds like he was popular with the team.

    Makes you wonder about the apparent lack of planning in the FO. Does this team need that extra money to cut them even shorter off the bench or was there more to this move to keep MD from starting the guy and forcing more minutes to Hill and Kamen?

    Very confused on decisions these days.

  5. Good read Dave…sad to see Shawne go as he was definitely a glue guy. And while Mitch did touch on his reasoning for why he made this move (quote below), I also think it was done to get Ryan Kelly some playing time to see if he is going to be a future asset or not. With our record, it’s all about the future, and he knew Mike would keep going with Shawne over Kelly if they were both on the roster. Throw in the financial relief too, and it was a tough but necessary decision for Mitch.

    “As somebody who is responsible for payroll and the roster, God forbid we lose another player in the backcourt,” Kupchak said. “Knock on wood, I’m knocking on my desk as we speak, if we lose Kendall Marshall, now I got to go out and find another ballhandling guard. And if we let the [Jan. 7] deadline pass, now we have to cut a guy on a guaranteed deal to bring another guy on board. I’m not doing my job then. Right now we have five [healthy] players in the frontcourt. With Shawne, we had six. We have players there. I’m most concerned about an injury in our backcourt with 40-something-plus games to go.”

  6. Really great read; thanks so much for this article! I’m beyond frustrated, annoyed and bored with everything Lakers being viewed from the perspective of “to tank or not to tank” and/or “MDA should or should not be fired”. (FWIW I’m in the “no tank” & “keep MDA” camp)
    With such a narrow focus, we are missing so much that is actually happening on the court:
    Nick Young – Scoring? probably, but passing, defensive effort and taking charges – who’d have thought?
    Jodie Meeks – Huge improvement in his game especially taking it to the hoop?
    Robert Sacre – Starting against Houston and not getting immediately destroyed by DH? Was that really the last guy taken in the draft?
    I could go on but you get my point.
    Am I frustrated that injuries and CBA restrictions have hampered this team and Kobe’s last couple of years in the league? Does the FO have its work cut out for them? Absolutely!
    But let’s give these players the respect due to them and actually talk about what is going on in the game rather than “Another loss, how’s our lottery position, who should we take in the draft?…”
    This plays extremely hard (much harder than they played in PJ’s final season btw), are playing like a team and are maximizing their individual talent. A post like this reminds us that it’s about a bit more than positioning ourselves for the upcoming draft.

  7. hey dave m: long time, no hear from. good piece on Shawne Williams. you always come through on the human interest side of basketball.

    as others have alluded to; Williams was getting starter’s playing time because coach liked him (was instrumental in bringing him to the lakers because of past performance w/him when they were both with the knicks) and also to showcase him in the eventual possibility the lakers could have gotten something for him instead of just waiving him. unfortunately, his opportunity to shine just didn’t happen. emphasis on opportunity.

    I like how the new guy guarantees a win versus the clippers tonite. another opportunity; let’s not waste it.

    keep up the good work dave m

    Go lakers

  8. Cutting a minimum level player for nothing, but salary reasons really is terrible. I understand that we’re a business…but holy crap. He went from starting to waived and it’s not like this team is so healthy that it could afford to lose another player. :/

    I’m glad that they were loyal to Kobe, but that loyalty needs to extend to other players too- IF they expect to attract free agents in the coming years. Good luck to Shawne in keeping himself straight and to finding another opportunity somewhere.

  9. KenOak, did you read the MK quote in Levi’s post? SW wasn’t cut for ‘nothing but salary reasons’, he was cut because they need some flexibility in case anything happens to their new starting PG (number 6 in my count: Nash, Blake, Henry, Kobe, Farmar). I really loved this post – it’s why I’m a fan: the more you know, the more moving fandom is – but ultimately SW was not playing nearly well enough to lock up a roster spot on a team with no margin for error at the PG slot. I can’t help but wonder what this means re: Farmar’s and Blake’s timelines….

  10. Dave’s piece is a good reminder that all these guys, from Jim Buss to the guys who mop the sweat off the floor during the game, are human beings with feelings, families, and stories. I think it is important to touch on that sometimes, when we are talking daily about how so-and-so is a terrible player or how dumb we think an organizational or coaching decision is.

    That said, I don’t really agree with the implications/suggestions that there is some larger message in Williams’ release. The NBA is, was, and will always be a harsh business for marginal players. If there is an organizational issue here, it is the one we have already touched on: MDA’s desire to play an ostensible Stretch 4, in relation to the Lakers’ personnel.

  11. Jesse: Interesting. I am also totally sick of the “tank” conversation, although I do understand it and others are free to post it as often as they wish. I am also in the “No tank” camp – meaning the players and coaches should try 100% at all times (and I think they are). Now – we do not agree with regard to MD, and if you don’t want to talk about coaching, and who should be our coach, I would not bring up PJ’s Final season. It compels people like me to bring up PJ’s second to last and third to last seasons : ) That said – which players do you want and think will be in our uni next year?
    KenOak: “IF they expect to attract free agents in the coming years. ” Isn’t that the most important thing we can do? Make ourselves attractive to FA? Creating space of course, but also the culture, the system, are all part of that.

  12. Really excellent post on a blog known for them.

    Moving story and I hope the dude makes it somewhere.

  13. Change is tough – whether it is moving on to MDA, losing Dwight, or dealing with the injury issues over the last two years. That said, successful organizations that don’t change die.

    The Lakers cannot change in the same way they have in the past – the game has changed, the refs have changed, the CBA has changed, the players have changed. When you change, you make more mistakes before you find your way. You have to recognize there is a cycle to life – see Phil Jackson and his philosophy.

    We are on a new path and, to be successful, we will have to travel a different path than other NBA clubs. That is tough medicine for fans to deal with – they always want the known and grand past. We need to remember: we have an organization that has been successful, we have a location that is desirable, and we are able to change. I would say we are in a better place than most other NBA franchises – we just are in the down cycle for this NBA franchise.

  14. Good luck to the Shawn Williams. I started to pay attention to him with New Jersey because he put up some interesting fantasy numbers. Then he fell off my radar. Glad I got to see him play in the FB&G armor. On a team with legit starters playing regular minutes, I think Williams sticks. On a team depleted of it’s ball handlers and minute eaters, I can see why he had to go. Hope he catches on somewhere.

    I disagree with one part of this well written piece, Dave. I don’t think much has changed in terms of the “free-wheeling”ness of this team’s spending. They were never irresponsible in their spending. When Magic got that 20 year contract, it was a great signing for the team. Rick Fox was signed for less than value and I think the team often found good deals. They also compensated winners. I would not call that free-wheeling. They paid for value. I think the same stands today. When difference makers become available, I think the team will pay for those differences to be made. The money they spent on Kobe is still a good investment and makes sense in the context of the team’s current competitive reality. I don’t think the Lakers were ever like the Knicks, trying to throw money at problems. The Knicks example just shows that money is paper, so trying to hit a target with it is hard. Besides that, when you make it rain, you get crowds of people on their knees and not much room to maneuver. The Lakers always tried to make smart investments and will continue to do so. As always, they are willing to pay for wins. The wins are just not available at the moment.

  15. Another great article on FB&G!

    A story that reveals a human interest angle, always tugs at the emotions that plagues us all, universally. Many of my posts speak to the player not being a mere player, but how basketball is their chosen profession and the means by which they put food on the table, and provide for their family.

    I’ve maligned Shawne Williams on many occasions, not because I didn’t think he was an NBA player rather I thought he was not a starter but more of an end of the bench type player. He’ll be missed as one of the players that got along with the old players, and the new players on the team which aided in the mental continuity of the team.

    Farmar’s injury hurt Shawne Williams more than any other player on the team. The two players appeared to have a basketball bond, which is that rarefied intangible that occurs on the court and is unexplainable. Farmar knew exactly where Shawne was on the court and passed him the ball so that Shawne could shoot in rhythm. Shawne wanted Farmar to get an assist so he made the shot. Shawne’s numbers with Farmar were impressive and made him an okay rotation player. Without Farmar his numbers relegated him to 12th man or D-League status. He might have lost his identity as a player, being known as an offensive player only, in his anxiety to make the team he tried to defend, rebound, and put the ball on the floor. Unfortunately, he was never able to display his one true attribute, shooting the 3. He was relegated to the role of a marginal basketball player that may have lost his lone opportunity to a sustainable NBA career.

    If Williams works on his game while he’s out and prepares himself for another shot during the summer league he’ll probably catch on with another team that can use his three point shot and size. If this coach stays with the team, and they need a player at the end of the bench next year, he might get another shot. Good luck, Shawne Williams!

  16. Thanks for the nice words, as well as the points/counter-points. Y’all are awesome, as always.

  17. Nice to have you back Dave M.! To paraphrase Thin Lizzy:
    `Guess who just got back today? That wild-eyed boy who´d been away´ ;)

    To those who haven´t read it, Dave wrote a wonderful article about ShawneW. on his blog `Searching For Slava´ (it was before training camp got underway, I believe) that you may want to check out.
    The best of luck to Shawne; thanks for watching our backs man.
    ___
    The Rockets game would have been a nice win for obvious reasons, hell any win would be nice!, but having said that, I sure as F*** would love to defeat the Clips tonight!! GO LAKERS!!!

  18. melcountscounts January 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Hope someone picks him up, or maybe a starring role in Europe or China. Good luck to him…

  19. Hey Robert, Don’t know if you’ll see this as another post is up after last night’s debacle – love that word, hate it when referring to the Lakers.
    Re: the coaching issue. My point about PJ’s last season is that even as great of a coach as he is, he wasn’t able to get that talent to work for him…that was a totally weird season in many ways.
    It annoys me no end that, for many people, everything that is wrong with LA this season is because of MDA. He is criticized for having so many starting line-up changes. Well, one obvious reason is injuries. The other is that we are so under-matched wrt talent, we have to try to maximize any slight match-up opportunity we might have. I doubt even MDA likes doing it.
    Is MDA the right coach for this team? Who knows. When Blake and JF were playing, we saw the style of game MDA wants played and it was very effective. I’m old-school and prefer teams with a low post game. I don’t like depending on outside shooting. But, if the point guard is penetrating and keeping the dribble alive and if the ball is moving, that does create many options. However, you do have to have a certain type of point guard for it to work.
    Now, my big concern is when Kobe comes back. I don’t think his game is very well suited to the style of play MDA wants. The big mistake the FO made was hiring Mike Brown. They should have hired Rick Adelman; it would have been a much better fit for that team and going forward.
    re: Who I’d like to see back/don’t want included in trades – Farmar & Blake & Sacre for sure. Wesley Johnson & Ryan Kelly are intriguing as to their upside. Love Nick Young, for many reasons, one being he calls himself Swaggy P. Obviously Kobe.
    I’m really hoping Nash can play at a high level; if not, I hope he decides to retire.
    If we keep MDA, I’d like to keep Marshall otherwise….
    Gasol – I thought he was going to come out this year and be a strong leader, not only stats (20 -10?) but personality on the floor. That’s not him though; even I have to admit he’s done. Now don’t want to re-sign him; would like to see him traded by the deadline. We need assets.
    That’s about it. Thoughts?