In a month, Derrick Williams has gone from the end of the Heat’s bench to regular minutes with the defending NBA champion Cavaliers.
And the veteran forward cannot thank Pat Riley enough for that.
Williams wanted to play more and said he appreciates the Heat president giving him that opportunity and releasing him Feb. 6, while he was still playoff eligible with another team.
“The way things were going at that time, it was mutually agreed,” Williams said during this Heat-Cavaliers home-and-home series that concludes Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena. “That was the best thing. We were both on the same page. It was a mutual parting.
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“Everything [Riley] told me was the truth. I don't think we have enough of that around here [in the NBA].”
Williams also expressed appreciation for Riley on Twitter after the Heat released him to make room to sign Okaro White to a two-year contract. He said that he and Riley met several times during the season, with Riley giving him encouragement.
“Obviously it didn't work out the first few months I was here,” Williams said. “But I still have a lot of respect for him. He has a lot of respect for my game.
“The sky is the limit for myself and how hard I push myself. That's why I respect him. I had a good conversation with him before I left Miami.”
When Williams signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Heat last July, the expectation was that he would be a rotation player. But in three months with the Heat, he made only 25 appearances (including 11 starts), averaged just 15.1 minutes in those games and averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds.
“Every day was very difficult,” he said of the lack of playing time. “But you've got to be professional. …. It wasn't because of my attitude. It wasn't because of anything like that. If anything, I felt like I was one of the best teammates that they had because I never complained about playing time. I never complained. I always came ready to work. I was always ready whether I played two minutes or 25 minutes.”
Nevertheless, he appreciates how the Heat staff helped him improve his conditioning and overall game. Erik Spoelstra said he’s a “much better” defender than when he arrived.
“It was amazing,” Williams said of his Heat experience. “I never pushed myself or been pushed like I have been with the Heat earlier this season, the training camp, everything from August to early February. The strength training, the coaches. Everything about the organization is world class. I'm thankful for that.
“Sometimes if you don't play as many minutes, you get out of shape. That wasn't the case. I was there every single day working my tail off and that's the reason why there wasn't any slippage in first few games I played [with Cleveland]. I give them a lot of credit for that, helping me push through a lot of different obstacles. Pat Riley having talks with me. Guys on the team keeping high spirits. That's the best thing about [the Heat].”
Williams has been receiving regular minutes in Cleveland (24.6 per game, on average) and is averaging 10.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.
“Man, it's awesome,” he said. “I'm just glad to be in a position on winning team, on a championship caliber team.”
RILEY ON LEBRON
In an interview with The Vertical’s Harvey Araton, Heat president Pat Riley called LeBron James’ departure the most shocking development of his Heat tenure.
But he also spoke of the Heat stability.
“Since I came here, we’ve had the same owner, same president, two coaches, same support staff,” Riley said in an interview posted Monday. “We’ve got a bunch of guys working for us who played for us. Players come and go, great players. When LeBron left, that was the most shocking thing to me – not to say he was right or wrong – and the most shocking thing to the franchise. But our culture is the same. You have your up years and your down years, but what can’t change is the way you do things.”
The story mostly deals with Riley defending Magic Johnson’s credentials and abilityto run the Lakers’ front office.
Heat players have a lot to say about tonight’s game in Cleveland, including the fallout of JR Smith losing his mind. Click here for that.