Tue. Oct 4th, 2022

Kenrich Williams will turn 28 in December, and he is employed by a basketball team that went 24-58 last season. He plays both forward spots, has earned the nickname “Kenny Hustle” and is entering the third and final season of a contract that pays him $2 million annually. He is precisely the type of role player that contending teams covet, so people on the internet are constantly concocting hypothetical trades to send him to one of them. 

On Monday, CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith published a list of players that Boston could target with its soon-to-expire traded player exception. Williams was No. 2. Hours later, Williams and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a four-year, $27.2 million contract extension, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. 

This does not necessarily mean that Williams will spend his entire career with the Thunder. It’s worth noting, however, that he wants to. 

“This might sound far-fetched, but I would like to retire here with the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Williams told The Oklahoman‘s Joe Mussatto in January. 

Williams repeated himself at his end-of-season media availability in April, adding that he loves being in Oklahoma City and it means a lot to have remained on a roster that has seen tons of turnover. He wanted to stay there because of his “coaches, teammates, everything,” he told reporters. “Just the culture.”

If Oklahoma City wants to build on the defensive identity it began to establish last season, locking up Williams is a good start. The Thunder, an average defensive team overall, allowed just 100.3 points per 100 possessions in Williams’ 1,072 minutes. (As a point of reference, the Boston Celtics’ league-best defense allowed 106.2 per 100.) In the 397 minutes that Williams shared the court with Luguentz Dort, who is also signed through the 2026-27 season, Oklahoma City allowed 97.1 per 100.

In two years with the Thunder, Williams has averaged 7.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 21.7 minutes. He made 44.4 percent of his 3s in Year 1, but his 33.9-percent mark in Year 2 is closer to his career average and he doesn’t shoot them at a particularly high volume. Williams is a connector, though, and an intelligent player on both ends. In April, Sam Presti, the general manager in charge of Oklahoma City’s rebuild, said in a marathon media session that Williams has “bought in.” Presti also said that he’s “grateful” that Williams wants to stick around.  

“It’s a good match with him,” Presti told reporters. “And he’s about the right stuff, so we really value that. And [we are] proud to have him on the team.”

There is surely a price at which Presti would part with Williams in a trade. If it wasn’t already clear, though, this contract shows that the Thunder really do value him. They are primarily focused on drafting and developing potential stars, but they know from experience that those star players need role players like Williams.

In 2010, Oklahoma City signed backup big man Nick Collison to a four-year contract extension. Collison was 30, eight years older than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, nine years older than James Harden. Like Williams, though, he was beloved within the organization and did all the glue-guy stuff that coaches appreciate, particularly on the defensive end. 

Collison spent his whole career with the franchise, had his No. 4 jersey retired in 2019 and still hasn’t left — he’s now a special assistant to Presti. The main difference between his 2010 extension and Williams’ today is that, back then, the Thunder were coming off a 50-win season, proof of concept for the sustained success that would follow. This time, they are still a ways away from becoming the type of team that typically treasures guys like Collison and Williams. But they can see it. 

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