Patrick Williams spoke with a different level of conviction when asked about his rookie contract extension, the one that didn’t come from the Chicago Bulls before Monday’s deadline.
“Obviously, this is how I feed my family,” the fourth-year forward said, two hours before the sides didn’t come to terms. “Obviously, I want a big contract. And I think that’s what I’ve worked for. I think that’s what I’m worth. But whenever it comes, it comes.”
Williams’ performance this season will now determine his worth. Will he land a lucrative deal that rivals fellow 2020 draft class members Jaden McDaniels and Devin Vassell, both receiving contracts in the $27 million annual salary range? Or would Deni Avdija money make more sense, something in the $14 million range annually?
The Bulls’ biggest long-term building block is now walking into a “prove-it” season. It adds another layer of nuance for a player who has had to navigate a choppy start to his career.
It raises the stakes for Williams this season. And he’ll try his best to play through his delayed payday, although he’s never had to perform in a contract year. At the first mention of his extension Monday, Williams conceded that he’s not good at the business side of basketball and prefers to let his agent handle that aspect.
“I go out and hoop and try to win games,” he said. ”And whatever comes of that comes of that. But my main focus for now is just trying to get this team over the next hump and get myself over that hump.
“I think the hardest thing to do in any profession is to go from good to great. That’s the goal of mine and obviously the goal of this team.”
Bulls forward Patrick Williams on his potential contract extension: “Obviously I want a big contract. I think that’s what I’ve worked for. I think that’s what I’m worth. But whenever it comes, it comes.” pic.twitter.com/CMruVGHYKz
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) October 23, 2023
Three weeks earlier, following the Bulls’ first day of training camp in Nashville, Tenn., Williams took another tone. He downplayed his individual goals and deferred to team achievement when asked what would make this season a successful one for him.
“You guys know I went to Florida State. You know my stats there,” Williams said. “It doesn’t match up to the No. 4 pick. It just doesn’t. Talent-wise, for sure, I deserved to be the No. 4 pick and whatever else came along with it. I truly believe winning takes care of everything. Whatever personal goals are in that locker room — and every player should have personal goals, that’s just part of it.
“They’re going to have them and they should work toward them. That’s kind of what drives you every day. But I believe and I’m a product of winning takes care of everything. … If the team succeeds in different areas, the players succeed in different areas. That’s the way it goes.”
Williams hasn’t changed in that regard. He held the same viewpoint as a 19-year-old rookie. When he talked like that then, it was cute. He came off as a humble potential star willing to do anything to win. But as he enters his fourth season still shy of meeting expectations, those same comments come off differently. Coupled with his erratic play, they could be misconstrued by impatient observers as Williams not wanting to get over the proverbial hump badly enough.
It’s up to the Bulls to figure out which version is the real Williams. This season could be Williams’ last chance to show it in Chicago.
Williams has the physical traits and various tools to be a solid contributor. He’s a capable and willing defender, a 41 percent 3-point shooter and an improving secondary playmaker. But he didn’t earn a lucrative extension similar to his counterparts because he has yet to supply all three consistently or even simultaneously.
A broken wrist in his second season hindered Williams’ development. He’s also had to learn to fit alongside established teammates Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević. But how much longer can the Bulls hold out hope Williams will grow into the X-factor the franchise believes him to be?
This is the season where Williams must turn promise into steady production. Remember, he’s an option not a stopper against the league’s best wing scorers. His 3-point marksmanship is limited to mostly standstill shots. His finishing at the rim needs work. His rebounding is subpar for his position. And he often floats offensively, getting lost in the mix on too many possessions. The Bulls can’t afford to pay a premium to retain their fifth-best player, particularly when he hasn’t made a dent in winning.
“I feel extremely comfortable where I am now going into my fourth year,” Williams said. “I’m not ashamed of — I’m actually pretty proud of the steps I’ve taken to get to this point in my fourth year. I think I’ve put myself in a really good position going into my fourth year to show what I can do.
“I think consistency is going to be a big factor of it. And it’s a lot that goes into consistency on the court: routine, regimen, making sure you’re in shape, making sure you can handle what comes with being really good every night.”
Williams said he wants to play with more energy and be steadier in rebounding. He also looks to push the ball in transition more, be better reading and attacking close-outs and generate more free throws. Each one will lead to more consistency.
“Just a more forceful me,” Williams said. “I’ve shown it all. Now it’s time to put all the pieces together instead of having pieces scattered out. Put the puzzle together.”
It’s time. Williams and the Bulls need it now.
Does Williams feel pressure to deliver?
“Not at all,” he said. “I think it would be pressure if I wasn’t capable. I know what I’m capable of. This team knows what I’m capable of. I’ve shown it. I’ve shown myself. I’ve shown this team. Everybody who needs to see it knows it. And if people don’t know it at this point, I’m not going out of my way to show it to them.”
(Photo of Patrick Williams: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)