For the better part of two years, after practice ended for the Toronto Raptors each day, there would be two players on the floor, getting extra work in. After everyone else had filtered out of the practice court, the players would begin a spirited battle of one-on-one. There would be trash talk and fouls and plenty of cursing. Especially when the younger player tried to call a foul on what the elder player felt was a weak play.
Some of the days the younger player was rookie DeMar DeRozan. Other days it was Sonny Weems. Sometimes it was the hulking Joey Dorsey. The older participant wasn’t technically a player at all, but assistant coach/director of player development Alvin Williams.
Change can be hard. Everyone knows this, but it doesn’t lessen the sting when an unexpected and unwanted change occurs. When Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reported on Monday morning that the Toronto Raptors had severed ties with Williams, Raptors fans felt that sting.
Since Tim Leiweke took over as president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, he promised a new Raptors team. He didn’t just talk about playoffs, but immediately started throwing around the “championship” word. He made it clear that change was necessary to move forward. This kind of energy, enthusiasm and confidence was exciting.
The organization hired Masai Ujiri and there was a feeling of fresh positivity in the air during Ujiri's introductory press conference two weeks ago. Shortly after Ujiri's tenure began, news of front office casualties from the Bryan Colangelo era began to trickle out. It made sense. A new GM usually means a new front office staff. The GM is going to want to put his people in place that will help him chart the path for a franchise.
If the Raptors had truly cleaned house and were starting fresh, it would feel less strange to cut ties with Williams, but when Colangelo remains on board -albeit in a different capacity where he won't be making basketball decisions- and it appears likely that Dwane Casey will remain as head coach, it seems unnecessary that perhaps the most loved of any former Raptors player needed to go.
Williams spent the past season working as a scout. Based in Philadelphia, he would be in Toronto from time to time whenever there was something he was needed for. While his job title was scout, he served a greater purpose than that. Williams was an ambassador of this franchise, if ever there was one. Reminding fans of the lone postseason series victory the team has had, he is remembered for the type of player he was: tough and unfailingly loyal. The team name splashed across his chest always came before the pains and aches of his failing body. He represented all that you would ever want in a player in a career that was cut short due to the injuries he fought through.
Change is inevitable in the world of professional sports; especially for a franchise that has floundered as much as the Raptors have. Still, it is unfortunate that in the attempt to take the franchise to a level of success they've yet to experience, one of the most revered players of its past winds up a casualty. The ability to make unemotional decisions is extremely important in this industry. Just as important, though, is being able to identify which pieces of the past are worth preserving.