THIS WAS THE wakeup call Louis Williams had been preparing for since he hit his early teens in Snellville, Ga. And that's what this was, a wakeup call from agent Merle Scott last Thursday afternoon.
The message was exactly what Williams had been waiting to hear. Restricted free agency with the 76ers was over. All he had to do was sign on the dotted line, which he did late yesterday morning. His reward came in the form of a 5-year guaranteed contract worth between $25 million and $27 million that included an opt-out window after the fourth season.
The kid who had come to the Sixers as a midsecond-round pick in 2005 directly out of South Gwinnett High had struck it rich. The kid who had played in a mere 30 games as a rookie had become a prime piece of a growing team.
No more wondering whether Scott and Sixers president/general manager Eddie Stefanski could agree on terms. No more listening to speculation about which teams around the NBA might be interested and what they might be willing to offer.
"I was in bed [when Scott called]," Williams said, laughing after being formally introduced at a press conference at Green Valley Country Club, in the midst of Comcast-Spectacor's annual company picnic. "It was like 2 in the afternoon. I have this thing where I work out at 6 in the morning, run 4 miles on a treadmill. When I come back, I get some rest. He called and said, 'Anything else you want to put in this deal? It's basically done. ' "
Williams is just 21, but seemingly with a strong grip on reality.
"I was excited, relieved I could start getting back on the court," he said. "This is a process where you can't really be on the court without a contract. You've just got to wait it out. I was excited to be able to stay here and, at the same time, get back to work. "
Even yesterday, any thought of celebrating remained somewhat on hold.
"I wanted to wait for the ink to dry," Williams said.
"He was so anxious, he didn't have what you could call a big outburst," Scott said. "It was more like an exhale. It was a great process for him. "
Williams grew into an off-the-bench spark-plug role last season, showing an ability to score as a shooting guard and to help create offense and defend as a point guard. The new deal, though, is more about one of the sometimes nebulous qualities coaches and executives see: upside.
"We talk about upside with players and Lou's is as high as he wants to go," Stefanski said. "What I think is great is, he's a hard worker. He'll give it all he has, but this kid has a big upside. Will he get there? That's what we're banking on as we're giving him this contract. And I don't have a big hang-up that he has to be a stone-cold 1 or 2. I just think he's a good basketball player. "
Williams described his first three seasons with the Sixers as going "basically zero to 60," from a rookie season during which he mostly watched to last season when he averaged 11.5 points in 23 minutes as the first guard off the bench.
"I don't think I, or any player, sets out to be a sixth man or a seventh man," he said. "You always want to be a big part of a team. The position I'm in now, coming off the bench, giving us a spark. I love that role. But you always want to grow as a player.
"I've always been one of those type of guys where I always felt I was going to be an NBA player, and I always felt like I was going to put myself in a position to make a lot of money over my career. It's something that I've prepared myself for. Am I surprised that we're here today? I/ve got to be honest with you and say, 'No. ' "