An NBA player’s early success often is dictated by the environment in which he begins his career.
So it’s easy to understand why Derrick Williams has had a roller-coaster career.
In the 2011 NBA draft, Williams was the No. 2 pick by Minnesota, which has struggled since Kevin Garnett left after the 2006-07 season.
In 2013, Williams was traded to the Kings, another team lacking stability. Last season, he signed with the Knicks, who have been synonymous with drama and dysfunction in recent seasons. This season, he joined the Miami Heat but played little before being released in February and signing with Cleveland.
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So as Williams participates in his first NBA Finals, he’s appreciative about his situation.
“I just turned 26 last week,” Williams said. “I want to play this game, five, seven, nine, 10 years. From this spot on forward, it’s looking great.”
Williams didn’t play in Thursday’s opening game until the Warriors had a commanding lead, but that didn’t diminish what he said has been his most positive season, his first in the playoffs.
He averaged 6.2 points in 25 games with Cleveland, proving he could be a contributor, but he’s only been in five of the Cavaliers’ 14 playoff games.
“I think all-in-all it’s been great,” Williams said. “A lot of veteran guys, they’ve been helping me out a lot. A lot of ups and downs, but it’s been great. We’re in the Finals, can’t say anything bad about it. This is why we play the game, to be in a position to win a championship.”
Williams has found the guidance he didn’t have with his other NBA teams. Watching the practice habits of a team competing for a championship has given the 6-foot-8 forward a new perspective.
“That’s the thing, you’re learning from other greats, All-Stars on this team,” Williams said. “The difference between this organization and others I’ve played in is we know which direction we’re going in. we know what the goal is each and every year, coming back individually better, playing together as a team, getting better as a team.”
Many thought guard J.R. Smith was a wayward cause when the Cavaliers acquired him in 2015, but with LeBron James as the leader, Smith proved he could be a good defender and a key part of a championship squad.
Smith said Williams can learn a lot from his experience with the Cavaliers.
“When new guys come in, we teach them our culture,” Smith said. “We care about them, we play for one another, we hang out together. If you’re not willing to do that, you probably shouldn’t be here.”
Williams has enjoyed the stability with Cleveland after so much chaos and numerous coaching changes.
The Kings had some interest in re-signing Williams as a free agent in 2015, but he opted to go to New York instead, leaving a coach, George Karl, who once compared him to a Coke machine after he failed to grab a rebound.
Williams, known for his easy-going demeanor, didn’t let that comment or his lack of playing time diminish his confidence.
Now he has a chance to win a championship and go on to what he hopes will be a long career.
“I think being on a winning team can take you a long way,” Williams said. “What I’ve learned when you win as a team (is) everything comes to you. It’s good karma. When you have a bunch of veterans who want to see you do well, that’s another positive, another plus that I was missing on some of my other teams.”
Williams hopes he will become one of those veterans teaching the young guys how to do things the right way.