It was the summer of 2001. The entire city of Sacramento was completely engulfed by everything Kings, something that a big-city-market fan could never fully understand. Sac was home to one of the NBA’s most popular teams, with a core of Webber, Peja, Vlade, and perhaps most beloved of all, flashy point guard Jason Williams.
Yup, times were good. But after receiving a call from the newly relocated Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings management did the unthinkable. I remember it like it was yesterday: the Kings dealt Jason Williams for Mike Bibby (with lesser parts Nick Anderson and Brent Price also swapped).
“Trading a player as popular and who did as much for us as Jason did was tough…But we’re really excited about getting Mike. He is another outstanding point guard.” -GM Geoff Petrie, June 28, 2001
The deal at first had a negative ripple effect throughout Kings fandom, enamored by “White Chocolate’s” play. Who could blame us? The NBA hadn’t seen anything like J-Will’s through-the-legs, behind-the-back, no-look, and elbow passes since Pete Maravich. But beneath the glamor underlying problems existed: for every breath-taking pass came a head-scratching turnover and poor shot selection. Because of this, Coach Adelman routinely sat Williams during the 4th quarters of games and other clutch moments.
We all know how the rest turned out for the Kings: Mike Bibby brought stability, quality decision-making, and clutch shooting. The team came a couple of referees away from winning the championship in ’02 and Webber’s-knee away from winning it in ’03. Given the results, many basketball fans conclude the deal was rightly executed by the Kings.
However, could the Kings of that era have maintained similar success had they stayed course with Williams? Many forget the team went 55-27 during the 2000-01 season, J-Will’s last as a King. This record is tied for third best in Sacramento franchise history. If the Kings were able to go 55-27 with a still “immature” Williams, what could their record have been with further chemistry development, and if Williams “matured”? Hubie Brown seemed to get through to him in Memphis; and, albeit having Shaq and D-Wade as teammates, Williams was an integral piece in the Heat’s 2005-06 championship season, being a full-time starter plus averaging 32 minutes per game.
“[Mike is] obviously a good shooter, and at this stage in his career, he’s a better all-around player than Jason” -Coach Rick Adelman, June 28, 2001
In the end, it was still the right move by the organization. Petrie had originally taken a gamble when he used the seventh overall pick of the 1998 draft on Williams, who was twice kicked out of Florida for drug use. The risk reaped rewards when J-Will was instrumental in putting Sac on the global stage amongst basketball fans.
But also remember that in 2001 Williams was unhappy with his role on the Kings. Poor defensive effort led to long spells sitting on the bench. Although Williams was a force in the NBA’s highest-scoring offense, after three years he just hadn’t turned into the complete point guard the Kings organization really wanted. Petrie thought Williams’ skills were outweighed by his erratic behavior and lack of improvement.
Bibby, on the other hand, was more of a “complete package,” just without the handles or Globetrotter passing. While nobody can get enough of this:
I’m glad the Kings traded it for this: