PHOENIX – If not for the Phoenix Suns’ decision to rest a handful of veterans late last season, center Alan Williams would not have found himself where he stood on Wednesday, behind a podium in front of a roomful of reporters discussing his new contract.
“Signing that piece of paper basically solidified myself as an NBA player,” he said.
Late last season, the Suns decided to, quote, strategically rest, unquote, three of its rotation players, including starting center Tyson Chandler. Their reason: They wanted to see what they had in their two young backups, Alex Len and Williams, both of whom would be restricted free agents at season’s end.
Len, 24, flashed but was inconsistent, a common theme of his Suns’ tenure thus far.
Williams, 24, meanwhile, flourished.
With consistent minutes, Williams displayed a defensive toughness and, perhaps surprisingly — at least to those not privy to watch practice or attend shootaround — a smooth touch around the basket thanks to a reliable floater.
Williams nearly averaged a double-double after the All-Star break with 11.4 points on 51.4 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds in 25 games, 12 of which saw him hit double-digits in both scoring and rebounding. That included a five-game stretch in March that was the longest double-double streak by a Suns reserve in franchise history.
His 15 double-doubles overall led the Suns and ranked third in the league off the bench.
There was reported interest from the New York Knicks in free agency, but Williams, winner of the Majerle Hustle Award, said he never entertained thoughts of continuing his career anywhere but Phoenix.
“The toughest part about me leaving and going somewhere else would be the fact that I’d leave my teammates,” he said. “We’ve grinded together and worked hard to get to this point where we are as a Phoenix Suns organization now, and there’s no going back. And so anybody that’s on board now and for the future is on board to try to win championships and to try to bring this great organization that’s been around for 50 years to something that’s great again.”
Nine days into free agency, Williams agreed to terms on a three-year, $17 million dollar deal, which the Suns officially announced on Wednesday.
To say Williams cashed in would be an understatement. Big time.
Williams made less than $900,000 in 2016-17.
“He’s worked for this moment. He’s achieved this moment,” GM Ryan McDonough said. “To take the path he took and to achieve what he has achieved is pretty rare and pretty special, and then to do it in your hometown, a place where you grew up and have obviously great ties to the community and family here, that’s pretty unique and pretty special.”
Williams, who had both his parents in attendance, is one of those feel-good stories. He’s a local kid, grew up a Suns fan and was named the state’s high school player of the year in 2011.
Despite a standout college career at UC Santa Barbara, Williams went undrafted. He played a year in China before the Suns called, bringing his basketball career back home and fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“It’s awesome. To see people walking around with my jersey on, it’s a crazy experience,” Williams said. “My dad had a jersey made for me when I was about, I think 7 or 8 years old, and it was a long jersey and didn’t fit at all. And now I look at that same jersey with ‘A. Williams’ on the back, (No.) 15, and I can’t even put it on.
“It’s incredible to see the journey and the process, and everything that’s gone along with it. I’m just super-blessed and grateful that it’s happening.”
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