Cavs newcomer Williams makes home debut against Nuggets (Feb 11, 2017)
When Derrick Williams walked into the visiting locker room in Oklahoma City on Thursday night, he officially became an NBA journeyman. The Cleveland Cavaliers became his fifth team during his six years in the league after he was waived by Miami on Monday and signed by Cleveland to 10-day contract.
Yet Williams and the Cavaliers are optimistic that the carousel may finally stop spinning in Cleveland. The veteran forward is getting his first opportunity to play for a winner, something he recognizes and cherishes. The Cavs host the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, which will mark Williams' first home game with his new team.
"Since I've been in the NBA, I haven't been on a team with a winning record," Williams said after signing a 10-day contract with the Cavs on Thursday. "You can just feel the energy as soon as you step in the locker room. Everyone is ready to play. That's the championship mentality everyone has here."
Williams has never lived up to expectations after being the second overall pick of the 2011 draft, not when guys like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard were drafted after him.
But he's only 25 and he has never been a total bust. He has averaged 9.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in his career and scored 12 points Thursday in his debut with the Cavs.
Coach Tyronn Lue wants to use Williams at both forward spots off the bench. The Cavs are one of the oldest teams in the league and were looking for ways to get younger. Williams offers it.
"A lot of players have bounced around until you find the right home," Lue said. "We know he's talented. We know he can play. You just got to find the right home a lot of times. It's not that he can't play or he's a bad guy. It's just that sometimes you got to find the right situation, the right opportunity and you'll fit in. So hopefully this is where it is."
Williams was a rotation regular with the Knicks, but signed with Miami in the offseason. He only appeared in about half of the Heat's games, however, and requested his release about two weeks ago. Heat president Pat Riley granted it on Monday and by the time he cleared waivers on Wednesday, Williams already knew he was headed to Cleveland.
"I'm still learning, man," Williams said. "A lot of people in this league really get counted out way too early. I have a lot of game left."
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has plenty of game, too. Jokic scored a career-high 40 points in the Nuggets' 131-123 victory Friday at Madison Square Garden. Denver now heads to Cleveland for the second night of a back-to-back.
Jokic is averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his second season after he was a second-round pick in 2014.
"I don't think he is a star in the making. He is a star," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "His numbers back him up. He is doing it against really good players, All-Star-level players. He is going to get everything he deserves because he works hard and he is a great kid. He is a guy I'd pay to see, not because he's dunking on anybody or blowing by anybody. It's because of his skill, his flair, his joy."
Saturday marks the final stop on a quick three-game East Coast swing for the Nuggets, who haven't won consecutive games since they won three straight Jan. 24-28.
Denver remains without Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari and could remain that way through the All-Star break. Faried is nursing a severely sprained ankle, while Gallinari has missed five games with a groin injury. Saturday will mark his sixth missed game.
"We're not going to rush those guys back," Malone told the Denver Post. "We have four more games prior to the break. If we have to use that entire time to get Gallo back for after the break to make a push, then we'll do that. Whatever is in the best interest of the players."