Talking With: Shammond Williams
When I first heard the news this summer about the Lakers signing free agent Shammond Williams, my immediate reaction was, "Dude! Blast from the past!" I hadn't thought much about the guy since around 2001, when his solid play off Seattle's bench led to a multiyear deal. From there, Shammond bounced around the league for a bit, eventually opting to play in Europe (where, among other achievements, he was the 2005 FIBA Europe League All-Star game MVP). He's now sporting the purple and gold, but the amount of minutes he'll be logging in an already crowded point guard rotation remains to be seen. Williams doesn't have all the answers, but he was more than willing to take my questions. Here's what he had to say.
Andrew Kamenetzky: How happy are you to be both back in the NBA and with the Lakers?
Shammond Williams: Well, being back in the NBA, it's not like I was, "Aw! I gotta get back to the NBA!" That was not something that I felt like was gonna make me or break me, because it was my decision to go play in Europe. But being here in L.A. is great. First and foremost, you get to run for one of the best coaches that ever coached a game. I've had opportunity to learn from great coaches from high school to college. And now you get Phil Jackson and that's great in and of itself. When you're a basketball fanatic and you love the game, that's great just having an opportunity to obtain knowledge from these guys. Tex Winter. Jim Cleamons. Coach Frank (Hamblem). B-Shaw. It's just a great atmosphere. And a great stage to play on. I'm just taking on as much as I can to help this team go to the next level.
AK: I would imagine that as a point guard, the heady aspects of the game that you mentioned appeal to you.
SW: Oh, I love it. I love it. Because the game is about reads. The game is about moving the basketball. Making reads. Everyone pretty much gets the flow of the game. Everybody knows, or should know, where that spot is on the floor, so you don't have too many people drifting. Everybody knows where they should be, so that kind of helps you in the point guard aspect, because you control the floor. You're trying to make sure everybody is where they need to be offensively, as well as defensively. You're trying to steer people and put people in the right positions to be successful.
AK: Can you talk a little about what prompted you to choose to play in Europe?
SW: Well, what really happened, the first thing that happened was Zaza Pachulia, one of my teammates from Orlando (during the 2003-2004 season), asked if I would be interested in helping his team try to qualify for the World Championships. I said, sure. It's basketball. I didn't know the political apsects of it, but just playing the game of basketball, sure. So I went and played in the World Championships with (the Unics Kazan of the Russian Superleague). I was granted dual citizenship, so I got a Georgian passport and got the opportunity to play and we did a good job.
It was, you get to play the game of basketball like you want to play. I had already played six years in the league, so monetarily what I was being offered (by NBA teams), I didn't like. A European team came and offered me double what I make in the NBA. So I took it. It was just the contracts I didn't like. Plus, I had been traded the past two seasons at the trade deadline. I was in Boston (in 2002-2003). We were on top of the Atlantic. We get to the trade deadline, they traded me to Denver. At that time, I was having a good season, the team was having a great season. We had beaten New Jersey, who had beaten (us) prior in the Eastern Conference Finals. And then they traded me and later, they didn't get past New Jersey (in the ensuing playoffs). They got swept. Then the next season, I was in Orlando, then I got traded to New Orleans. In New Orleans, (then-Coach Tim Floyd) wouldn't play me. He said if I had been there in the beginning of the season, he probably would have played me. Then we're in Game 7 (of the 2004 Eastern Conference opening round) against Miami and Lamar. We're down 15. With seven minutes left in the game, he put me in and we cut the lead down to 2. But we eventually lost.
You just feel like you weren't respected. When you're not respected, especially in the game of basketball when you know what you're doing, you wanna go somewhere where people respect you. That kind of helped facilitate the decision (to play for Winterthur FC Barcelona) as well.
AK: Did that time in Europe playing with a respect factor help give you either a new lease on or a different appreciation for the game?
SW: Well, yeah. The thing I thought I was I just wanted to be a winner. And while I was there, I won. And people know that. I may not have had the best team, but I was able to steer maybe one of the elite teams in Europe. I take pride in that myself. Those things you can't overlook, because if you're really about the game of basketball, you want winners. You want people that know how to win.
AK: You're over here now. Have you talked at all with Phil and the rest of the coaching staff about what they'll be looking for from you?
SW: Well, right now, I haven't really. They just want me to get a grasp of the offense and I think they understand that I know how to play the game of basketball and I'll make the right plays. Once we get playing, they're gonna pretty much say, "Shammond, you should have made that pass." Or, "You should have looked here." I think they see that I know to play the game of basketball, offensively as well as defensively. Unfortunately, I'm not 100% yet, but I'm getting there. And they're working with me on my health and understanding how they want the team to play.
AK: What's ailing you right now?
SW: Well, I've just been going through a pelvis injury that I've been dealing with for four months now, so I really just started playing just last month. Just being able to run a little bit. But it's a tough process. The Lakers have done a great job of trying to get me healthy. It's been great.
AK: Are you finding your comfort level growing in the offense?
SW: Well, the offense is good. I think I understand the movements. Now it's more or less, the more you get to play, because we've been going through instruction, instruction, instruction. Instructional kinds of practice. But when we get to playing, it flows a little better. It's great. I'm grasping it and I think I'm on par.
AK: There's a lot of competition at your spot.
SW: I don't worry about that, because when you talk about competition, competition is one thing. Doing it in the game is another thing. Having the opportunity to do it is another thing. There are some things you can control and some things you can't. And the only thing I can control is me knowing what I can do, what I'm capable of doing and getting my opportunity to do it.
AK: Do you like having a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel as a GM?
SW: Oh yeah. (laughs) When you get out here and you start thinking about the game of basketball, Mitch, by far, is a fellow Tar Heel. We had talks about me coming here last year, being a fellow Tar Heel, and things didn't work out. But this year, it worked out and Mitch is a great person beyond anything else. Even though we're from the same university and play for the same coach. He's a great person and you like working for great people and working with great people. That's one thing I can say. You just look at the individuals we have here. Lamar is a great individual. Kobe is a great individual. Aaron McKie, great guy. You're in an atmosphere of great people and that makes a working environment a lot better, when you can jell and be cohesive with your teammates. That's great in itself.
AK: When you were overseas, did you get to see any of the games against Phoenix in the playoffs?
SW: I was able to see a game or two. I wasn't able to see the whole thing, because we were in a playoff series ourselves. But I was able to see little things, a few things.
AK: At the time, you didn't realize you were going to be a part of this team. But having seen it, in retrospect, could you see yourself being a part of what they were doing?
SW: Well, yeah. There's a lot of teams I see myself being a part of or could have been a part of, but situations happen. In the games, if you're saying, "Well, if Shammond was there, would he have made that shot?" OK, if I was there, there's a possbility I wouldn't have gotten that shot, you know? So you can't say ifs and ands. All you can say is, "Do I feel like I could help this team?" Yes, I feel like I could help this team. I feel like I could help a lot of teams. But it's just like I said before. It's the opportunity and what they want from me. You can help a team, but if the opportunity's not presented, then you can't help. If there's something that you do that you're capable of doing and they don't want to you do that, then you can't do that.
AK: Aside from Jordan Farmar, a rookie, you've spent less time in the system than any of the point guards on the roster. But outside of McKie, you're also the most experienced. Do you see that as an interesting balance or a dichotomy?
SW: Yeah. I look at my experience and knowing how to play the game, it's a big upside when you have a lot of young guys around, because you're trying to help them along too. It's like, you make plays instinctively, but you do learn that a lot of the younger players, their instincts aren't the same as yours. They may result in a turnover. So you pull them off to the side and you try to tell them, "If this happens, this is what's going to happen." Because the NBA is younger, a lot of times, they don't have the time to be taught. And that's one of the things that I take pride in, me being an older player and playing the game, it's my job to try to help these guys get better mentally. The IQ of the game. Pick up their IQ of the game up, help them understand how to play the game of basketball.
Everybody says, "Look at how Phoenix plays and Dallas plays" and things like that. And it's just those people play the game the right way. It's not like they created the wheel. They didn't create the wheel. They're just playing the game the right way. The guy's open, move the basketball. Be an unselfish player. Work together. Five people are on the court. These teams didn't create the wheel. They're just playing together as a team. Nobody thinks they're bigger than the team. They're unselfish. When you're unselfish, everybody feels a part of it. Everybody has their superstars, but everybody needs to contribute.
AK: I saw you talking with Bynum a little bit after practice. It looked like you were instructing him on something.
SW: Just on a pick and roll. We ran pick and roll today and I drew his man because he never rolled. One of the coaches said he's not used to that because he's not used to getting (the ball). Well, OK, now you have somebody who's willing to give you the basketball in that positon. It's not gonna work if you don't roll. Just helping him understand what's going on.
AK: And you enjoy that end of it?
SW: Oh, yeah. Because the game has to be taught. If the game's not taught, then people get a misconception of what the game of basketball is. Like I said before, it's not that the European game is better than the U.S. game, it's that they play a different style of basketball. They understand that the team is more important than the individual. And when they get that aspect, like you said, all 12 guys feel like they're a part of what's going on. And they win.