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Celtics give Williams another chance

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / April 23, 2012
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The Celtics are the latest team to take a chance on Sean Williams, hoping that his immense physical skills and basketball intelligence will make for a productive stint and that he can avoid his previous off-the-court pitfalls.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers did their homework on Williams before signing him to a contract Friday, weighing his potential impact on the team chemistry.

Williams, the former Boston College center, was a first-round pick of the Nets in 2007 because of his athletic prowess. They ignored his issues at BC, where he was dismissed from school during his junior season, the last in a series of problems he experienced under coach Al Skinner.

Yet his problems continued in the NBA, and he picked up a label as a focused player on the court, and an uncontrollable one off it.

“I talked to everyone,’’ Rivers said when asked whether he contacted NBA people who knew Williams. “I talked to nine coaches, assistant coaches, ex-players who played with him, because my locker room is unbelievable and I don’t want to bring in anyone, even if it was for five days, that’ll upset that.

“The one thing they all say is that he’s not just smart, he’s brilliant smart, but he does dumb things and we have to get him away from that, and [to] just being a ballplayer. That’s what he has to view himself as, and if he can do that, he has a chance.’’

Williams played just 126 games over three seasons with the Nets, an effective player as a rookie whose production declined as his personal issues increased. He spent his final two seasons in New Jersey mostly in coach Lawrence Frank’s doghouse, or the NBADL.

His stint included an arrest at a suburban Denver mall, where he smashed a computer monitor in a cellphone store, for which he received a two-game team suspension. He was waived by the Nets in January 2010 and spent time in China, Israel, and Puerto Rico, before Dallas brought him back to the NBA last December after nearly a two-year absence.

While he was a solid citizen with the Mavericks, there was another incident - after surprisingly playing 11 minutes in a blowout loss to the Nuggets, he vomited on the sideline. The Mavericks sent him to their NBADL affiliate before releasing him March 22.

According to a team source, the Celtics were told by the Mavericks that Williams was not waived for any disciplinary reasons. The improved play of Brandan Wright made Williams expendable.

Williams was called to Waltham two weeks ago to work out in front of the Celtics’ brass, and he was told Wednesday night he was a Celtic.

“It’s been my first game and it was really a surprise how the crowd roots for the Celtics on the road,’’ he said with a bright smile after Boston’s loss at Atlanta Friday. “It’s one of the most special organizations in the NBA as many titles as they won. I think it’s a flagship organization in the NBA. I just want to come in here and try to represent right.’’

When asked who was the first person he called when he signed with the Celtics, he said, “I called my dad. You work hard hoping for the best and just to get what you can out of it.’’

Skinner said Williams is gifted player from a stable background, making his issues even more frustrating.

“Sean played extremely well for me and I think he’ll play well for Doc,’’ Skinner said. “I was always hoping he could go out and make [defense] his niche because he could go out and defend anyone. He’s a tremendous athlete. It’s really not his basketball ability that is the issue, it’s when he gets away from the court, he’s had some issues. But he always practiced for me, played for me, and was always on time, never an issue that way. I would like to think he’s matured some.

“He comes from a very solid family. He’s a smart kid, so it’s clearly on him. Some guys do better in the NBA than he would in college and I was hoping he would do better. Unfortunately, he has not consistently done what he needed to do. Whenever the light goes on, whenever that is, the team will be well-rewarded for it.’’

Williams doesn’t shy away from his misdeeds. And there appears to be more of a sense of humility and gratitude than existed three years ago. Rivers was asked last week about former Celtic Gerald Green, who also was banished from the NBA for a few years because of an unsavory reputation. He said Williams and Green are taking positive steps by owning up to their mistakes.

“It’s tough to get a 10-day [contract], it’s tough to get through the reputation that you earned,’’ Rivers said. “That’s one of the things I always tell the guys. It’s not a false reputation. It’s a reputation that you earned and now you have a chance to earn another one.

“It is tough for us to look at him in a different light than what he was in, but I give guys chances. I’ve always done that. I have no problem with that. And he’ll make the [decision]. It won’t be me. It won’t be Kevin Garnett. He has the talent to be a very good NBA player and he’s had the talent to be one and now he has another opportunity and I hope that in a good way, this is his last opportunity, that he takes advantage of it. But we’ll see.’’

Williams said he is focused on moving forward and not being a victim of his past.

“We all live our lives, learn from decisions we make, hopefully, you know?’’ he said. “I just try to grow every day. I know I am a better man than I was yesterday, and that’s all I can ask of myself every day.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.

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