Of the nine current Gators in the NBA, the one who may have the best chance for an NBA title ring didn’t even play in the league last year.
Former Florida point guard Jason Williams has rebounded nicely from taking a year off. After announcement his retirement during the preseason with the Los Angeles Clippers in the fall of 2008, Williams has provided steady play off the bench for the Orlando Magic. In 81 games, including 18 starts, Williams has averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 assists. He’s also among NBA leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“He really pushes the ball in transition and he brings a real consistent energy,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “There’s rarely a time where, in fact I don’t even remember one, where he goes into a game and you just say wow Jason doesn’t have much energy tonight.
“He really brings that every single night. That’s probably the No. 1 thing he’s done for us, plus he’s the best passer we have. He’ll get the ball to open people, he’s fun to play with, and the energy goes way up. And he’s worked hard defensively. He doesn’t have the reputation of a great defender, but he’s worked very hard on his defense.”
Van Gundy said the Magic didn’t have any worries about rust when the team signed him to a $1.3 million, one-year contract last summer. Williams, it turns out, took the year off to help his wife through a difficult pregnancy.
“At some point, we worked him out to see what his conditioning was,” Van Gundy said. “He’s obviously still got all of that. What you worry about is if a guy loses it physically. It’s not a matter of rust. They are not going to forget how to play. It’s just a matter of do they have their quickness still and he clearly did.
“He’s obviously a very smart player. So there weren’t a lot of concerns. I mean we thought it make take him a while, but it really didn’t. The preseason, those first three or four games, I don’t think he was really good. But that’s about all and then he was into it.”
Williams was not available for comment following a recent win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Orlando publicists say he’s among the last in the locker room during the NBA’s pregame interview period and the first to leave the locker room following games.
Part of Williams’ distrust for the media stems from an incident during the 2005 NBA playoffs in which he felt a quote was taken out of context by Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins. Williams, playing for the Memphis Grizzlies at the time, was quoted as saying he was happy that the season was ending because he could spend more time with his family. Williams then got into an altercation with Calkins after the Grizzlies were swept in the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. He was fined $10,000 and traded to the Miami Heat during the offseason.
But Magic teammates have praised the 34-year-old Williams for his leadership and steady play. Williams, who won an NBA championship as the Heat’s starting point guard in 2006, should provide invaluable experience for the Magic in the playoffs.
Orlando reached the NBA Finals last season before losing to the Los Angeles Lakes. The Magic are the No. 2 seed in the East entering the start of the playoffs this weekend.
Williams could be the missing piece that helps the Magic get over the hump.