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    HomeSportExclusive: Grant Williams talks Dallas Mavs trade, leaving Boston Celtics behind

    Exclusive: Grant Williams talks Dallas Mavs trade, leaving Boston Celtics behind

    Grant Williams has packed up his apartment before. He had a small apartment in Boston when he was first drafted, then saved up enough money to move into a nicer spot.

    But this time was different. He knew he would be able to afford a much bigger place in a few weeks, but he had no idea where. For the first time since he joined the Celtics, he didn’t know where he was going to end up, but he knew it might be somewhere new.

    “This time I was packing like I’m gonna be in Boston or I’m gonna move this to a different state,” Williams told The Athletic Wednesday after joining the Dallas Mavericks in a sign-and-trade that sent Boston two second-round picks and a second-round swap. “I was confident just because my mom did a great job helping me keep my head through it.

    “I can only imagine if I didn’t have the support system that I have because it’s one of those when you’re stressed about what’s next, I don’t know how much money I’m gonna be making. It’s just a lot of stuff to balance.”

    Williams ended up with $54 million over four years, fully guaranteed per league sources. It’s the contract he wanted last year during preseason extension talks, but the Celtics only offered $48 million guaranteed with some incentives. He could have taken that deal, avoided the risk and felt secure knowing he was making millions. But he thought there was more out there and bet on himself.

    “I was thankful just because I feel like the way my agent and everybody talked about it was that this was our floor,” Williams said. “In Boston, it’s really like $48 million with the millionaire’s tax, so $54 million in Dallas is really like $58 million in Boston and $63 million in L.A.

    “It was a little strategic on that end, but it’s also one of those things where the year was going great and then some things curved that. So to come out with this makes me feel very comfortable.”

    But the year didn’t go as planned. Williams turned the offer down, which looked like a brilliant gamble as he thrived as a starter early in the season. He was a better ballhandler, could get to the rim and was shooting lights out.

    Then Robert Williams returned, Grant Williams’ role became more erratic, and things fell apart. Too many predictable turnovers trying to drive through help defenders, mistakes on defense, injuries affecting his shooting and bizarre events like bricking the game-winning free throws against Cleveland caused Joe Mazzulla to pull him from the rotation. The staff wanted to give Sam Hauser more playing time to prepare for the playoffs, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown advocated for Williams to return to the lineup.

    Though he struggled to close out the regular season and again was stuck to the bench for the first round, he eventually earned a crucial role in the Miami series and showed why he was worth the deal he turned down before the season.

    “I felt like I had done enough to maintain the conversation that I had the year prior. I played well enough to be like, ‘He’s worth this amount, but could be worth more if he was unrestricted,’ ” said Williams. “Since I was restricted, there was no doubt that the first wave of free agents gotta go and in restricted free agency, you typically lose all your money.

    “You’re not gonna put a sheet down on somebody with six days left for a team to match or find a sign-and-trade. But being 24 years old and everybody else on the market is 27, 28, I feel well-positioned for the next contract.”

    This situation played out well for Williams considering how rough the market is for restricted free agents trying to join a new team. Because he couldn’t sign an offer sheet until Thursday, he was stuck in a holding pattern beholden to Boston’s trade negotiations with other teams.

    Williams had a more competitive market earlier in free agency, but Brad Stevens holding out for a first-round pick forced several suitors to move on to other deals. Even as Williams’ market shrunk, he knew the likelihood of staying in Boston was dwindling.

    “I had an understanding of that most of the way. I know how the numbers work out and yeah, they could have afforded to keep me,” said Williams. “But it’s one of those things where you’re really committing and after the prior year, I didn’t think it was realistic. Hey, Boston was trying to maintain their leverage. It’s one of those where you can’t be mad at them for it because it just shows they want you to be there in a way.”

    Even so, he was down for a return if the number was right. In the toughest times last season when he was stuck on the bench, he always maintained publicly and privately that he just wanted to win. Kristaps Porziņģis coming to town would make it even harder for him to earn minutes, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

    “With the (Porziņģis) news, I was excited about it ’cause even if they did end up matching me, I would probably be playing less but my whole thing is about winning,” he said. “But the ability to come to a great team like the Mavericks and compete at a high level, and be involved to do things to show I can really pass and do more in the future, is really exciting for me.”

    But Williams’ return never made sense once Porziņģis came to town. No team pays four bigs double-digit salaries, especially in the supertax era and particularly when the Celtics are about to commit a Powerball jackpot to its three stars over the next calendar year. Boston could have matched an offer sheet and waited until the deadline to shed salary, but elected to avoid that headache now.

    And it was the best thing for Williams’ career. He can flourish in Dallas, where he has a little more freedom and role consistency to hone his game and attack with confidence. It will be different with the Mavs’ talent pool, as Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving can break down the defense and kick the ball out to him for wide-open 3s as well as anyone in the league.

    “The talent on this team is absurd,” Williams said. “Kyrie and Luka, being able to put two superstars of that nature, two top 10 players or whatever you want to say, Kyrie is one of the best point guards in the league still. As well as those young guys they have to grow and compete like (Olivier-Maxence Prosper), they drafted Dereck Lively. The Seth Currys, the vets in the world, they’re really talented.”

    Now Williams looks ahead to a new life in Dallas, where he will likely start alongside Dončić and Irving. It will be a feast of wide-open 3s coming from two of the league’s best point guards. But it also allows Williams to take the next step both as an individual player and a leader.

    “For me, just to be able to bring energy, be able to bring togetherness, to bring a certain team mentality to a group that has a lot of great talent,” Williams said. “In terms of coaching, in terms of front office, in terms of Mark Cuban, it’s a franchise you’ve always heard great things about. I remember watching Dirk Nowitzki play for the Mavs and how impactful he was for the city was a beautiful thing.”

    Now he gets to unpack in Texas, where at least he can probably get a mansion for the price of a two-bed apartment in the Back Bay. And now he can settle into a team and city that needs him, where he can grow unimpeded.

    “I’m excited to go to a new city, to embrace the new culture and fans,” Williams said. “Just enjoy the moment.”

    (Photo of Williams: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

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