Shawne Williams has been odd man out for too long. The 27-year-old power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers has bounced around, in and out of the NBA for seven years, a nomadic former first-round draft pick burdened with a cloud of drug-related incidents that followed him like a storm tracker.
Were it not for Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni, Williams might very well be out of basketball altogether. But, because D'Antoni liked the player and person that he saw as coach of the New York Knicks back in 2010, Williams got one more opportunity to forge an NBA career in Los Angeles.
"I knew that Shawne, if he gets focused, he can play," said D'Antoni, via Eric Pincus of L.A. Times.
"Sometimes he gets left out in the cold because he shouldn't have done what he did. If you know his character, you know what you can get."
While injuries have decimated the Lakers again this season—most notably to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar—players like Williams are being given a golden opportunity to show what they can do at the highest professional level. And, with a supportive coach in D'Antoni, Williams is making the most of it.
Heading into Friday's contest with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Williams had started six of the 26 games he's played in, averaging five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of action. He has shown the ability to hustle quickly down the court and spot up at the perimeter as a pure catch-and-shoot player.
He is a high-energy, athletic forward who battles for loose balls, but his main strength is an innate ability to make shots from long distance. When analysts describe shooting "in rhythm," they could easily be talking about Williams.
Williams had his best game against the Detroit Pistons on November 29, when he scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 31 minutes. Six of his seven baskets came from beyond the arc and the Lakers won on the road, 106-102.
Williams' minutes decreased in recent weeks as D'Antoni went more with the defensive-minded Jordan Hill in the 4-spot. But, now that Kobe Bryant is out again (six weeks minimum) with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, Williams should see his minutes increase.
Focus, or lack thereof, has been Williams' Achilles' heel since 2006 when he was drafted in the first round (No. 17 pick) by the Indiana Pacers as a one-and-done freshman from the University of Memphis.
The 6'9" Williams averaged 13.2 points per game in his one college season, showing tremendous potential as a shooter and rebounder. While at Memphis Williams led all Conference USA freshmen in scoring and rebounding. He averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in three games in the Conference USA tournament, and was named the tournament MVP.
But Williams has often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and made decisions that came back to haunt him. The first occurred on September 11, 2007 while still a member of the Pacers. Williams was arrested in Indianapolis and charged with possession of marijuana.
Williams was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008 for Eddie Jones, two second-round draft picks and cash. He played in just 15 games that year for Dallas, and did not play at all the following season.
The Mavs shipped Williams and Kris Humphries to the New Jersey Nets in January 2010 for Eduardo Najera. He got into trouble again and was promptly cut by the Nets four days later.
Williams was arrested and charged with a drug felony for selling a codeine substance. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug possession and was put on probation. After undergoing drug treatment and attending a drug offender school, Williams made a $10,000 contribution to the Shelby County Drug Treatment.
But he was out of basketball again. That summer, Williams had an opportunity to try out for both the New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats.
Because his older brother, who had been murdered, last saw him play at Madison Square Garden, Williams decided to sign with the Knicks. That is where he met Mike D'Antoni.
With D'Antoni as coach, Williams flourished. In 64 games (11 as a starter), he averaged 21 minutes and seven points per game. He shot 40 percent from three-point range and made 84 percent of his free throws. His play was a key factor in the Knicks making the playoffs.
Despite that new-found happiness with the Knicks, Williams signed a two-year deal for more money with the New Jersey Nets in 2011. The Nets then traded Williams, Mehmet Okur and a 2012 first-round draft pick in March 2012 to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for small forward Gerald Wallace.
Williams never played a game for Portland and that fall was out of the league. He didn't play until early in 2013 after being arrested again in December of 2012 for possession of marijuana.
Williams went to play in China earlier in 2013. D'Antoni invited him to try out for the Lakers last summer and is convinced he can be a productive contributor.
Said D"Antoni, via Pincus and L.A. Times: "He's got a huge amount of talent. You've got to know the guy's heart. He's got a good heart. He's very respectful. Sometimes he's gets unfocused ... maybe in the wrong environment, but overall I know he's a good, good guy."
D'Antoni stood up for Williams early in the season after an incident involving Jordan Farmar being pushed by Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in a 14-point Lakers win. Williams stood up to the bigger Cousins and told him to lay off the smaller Farmar.
“I don’t think he (Williams) went overboard,” D’Antoni said, via reporter Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News. “I just think he was trying to stick up for Jordan. Maybe they liked each other when they played together in New Jersey. Shawne is a standup guy."
Williams is one of a handful of talented, inexpensive (one-year contract for $1.106 million) players brought in by the Lakers to fill the vacuum created by the departure of Dwight Howard. He's part of a stop-gap measure the team is employing while working to get itself in position to make a play for several big-name free agents over the next few summers.
There is no question Shawne Williams is a talented basketball player. He is also the cat with nine lives and seems to understand that he's on his ninth life in Los Angeles. Williams has found a basketball family in D'Antoni and the Lakers.
D'Antoni will vouch for the character of Shawne Williams and is confident he can be a short- and long-term solution as a stretch forward for the team.
Does Shawne Williams have what it takes to stick with the Lakers and contribute?
When D'Antoni told Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times that his team of young castoffs (i.e., Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Williams) fighting for job security was making progress, he could have been speaking just about Williams and his struggles to stay out of trouble and in the NBA spotlight.
"I feel we're OK, but I want this group to do something special. That's our goal. That's why I don't feel great about what we're doing, because we're not special yet. But I think we can get there. I know it might be whistling in the dark, but I really feel it from these guys."
Shawne Williams has a golden opportunity to create some stability and success in his basketball and personal life. Back when he was with the Indiana Pacers, Williams was asked what he would tell young kids wanting to follow their dreams.
"If it’s a career in basketball, you have to eat basketball, sleep basketball, think basketball all day. If you know what you want, you’ve got to do it 100 percent."
Shawne Williams knew it then, he knows it now. Only he can write the final chapter.