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Grant Williams Wants to Return to Celtics in Free Agency Despite CBA

FOXBORO, Mass. — Grant Williams expressed his desire to return to the Celtics when free agency begins on Friday, leaving it in the hands of Boston president Brad Stevens and Williams’ agent Erik Kabe. Williams attended a Fanatics fan event at Gillette Stadium alongside Jayson Tatum and members of the Patriots and Revolution on Tuesday afternoon.

Williams, who wore a splint on his left hand from hand surgery earlier this month, admitted both the Kristaps Porziņģis trade and the corresponding collective bargaining implications impact his chance of returning. The Jazz, a team that potentially could’ve challenged the Celtics with a Williams offer sheet, likely fell out of the running by trading for John Collins on Monday, but numerous teams can offer contracts on Friday that would propel Boston above the second apron line if the Celtics matched. Adam Himmelsbach reported the Porziņģis trade would likely end Williams’ time with the team, while others indicated Boston’s exploration of sign-and-trade options.

“Brad and those guys, if they decide to keep me & bring me back, of course I’m gonna come back and be excited and happy and ready to play for the Celtics,” Williams said. “If something else happens, then I’ll have to transition, but for me, my outlook has always been that I want to make sure wherever I am, to impact success and winning and make sure I’m here for my players around me and focus on the team first … (I would) absolutely (return), cap-wise, with the new CBA, I think all these teams as you see are trying to get the trades in and the contracts done prior to the CBA truly being enacted, so you’re gonna see a lot of all-in pushes. If the Celtics decide to do it, that’s how it’ll work out. If not, it helps financially a little bit, but it definitely changes the numbers.”

Williams lauded the CBA his player’s association and the league worked out that could make finding long-term money difficult for a player like him. Only Boston owns his Bird Rights and the Porziņģis trade both filled his position and pushed the team within roughly $7-million of the second luxury tax apron, which carries penalties like freezing a future draft pick and barring use of the mid-level exception. Multiple years above the apron carry stiffer penalties and the CBA didn’t allow for breaks for teams when retaining players they drafted like Williams.

The Celtics could choose to embrace the second apron, like Phoenix did, by retaining its salary base now in Williams and extending Porziņģis long-term, the latter of which Marc Stein indicated likely happens next month. Williams thinks he could still fit into a crowded front court including Porziņģis, Al Horford and Robert Williams III. Williams said he’ll fully recover from his surgery long before training camp begins.

“Kristaps is amazing,” Williams told CLNS Media. “He’s a talented player, he’s huge, he blocks a lot of shots, he’s active, he’s a guy who can play outside and in as well. He spaces the floor, which you know Joe (Mazzulla) loves to do. He provides that size, as well, to be able to play bigger, to play bigger lineups and be able switch more and have protection, similar to that of Rob where both of them can protect the rim as well as defend in transition. He’s a very special talent and however I can play around the guys, whether it’s J.T., J.B., Kristaps, Derrick (White), I’ll adapt to that.”

Williams also lamented the Celtics’ loss of Marcus Smart in the Porziņģis deal, the difficult aspect of the trade that sent the team’s key leadership voice in the locker room elsewhere. It also potentially reflects the Celtics’ desire to change the complexion of the franchise. They already opted not to extend Williams in the fall, and his role reduced in his first season playing under Mazzulla. It’s worth questioning whether Boston would carry Williams, even as medium-sized salary to retain flexibility and depth, if Williams appears less likely to play now.

He spoke optimistically about remaining with the team next week, but realizes anything could happen. It showed most when he alluded to the Celtics as them, rather than we, when discussing how players in that locker room will need to step up in Smart’s absences. That could include him. That also could not.

“(Losing Smart) definitely hurts a little bit,” Williams said. “Just because you’ve been with someone for so long. He’s a phenomenal person, phenomenal teammate and he has the most heart and passion of anyone across this entire organization. you have to understand that part of this is a business. You have to be excited about where the team is going and the direction they’re trying to take, and you have to not really hold too much against it because we know Marcus is going to be great wherever. He’s in a great situation with a talented team and they needed him. They needed a player like that, to defend and also be able to shoot and knock shots down. He’s very, very able to do that, and this team’s going to have to step up in his absence.”

Free agency begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, before which Boston will likely offer Williams the one-year, $8.5 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent and retain his matching rights. Stevens previously praised Williams as a good player, without getting into the specifics of future contract negotiations. Williams reportedly declined an extension worth roughly $12 million per season last offseason. Several teams can exceed that figure now.

Williams and Tatum joked around at the event, shoving each other and tossing footballs to the many children in attendance, both players close throughout their four years together in Boston. Tatum did not speak at the event.

“Whatever the team needs out of me, I’ll try to give it my best,” Williams said. “You can have your opinions or thoughts, but they don’t really matter when it comes to basketball. You’ve gotta just focus on doing your job and make sure you come prepared every day no matter what organization you’re playing for. Nothing’s going to be perfect wherever you’re at. The grass isn’t always greener. You’ve gotta evaluate every circumstance you’re in, and come in with a great mentality.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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