Lewenberg: No looking back, Raptors sever ties with Williams

Josh Lewenberg
6/18/2013 9:36:10 AM
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Tim Leiweke's message has been made loud and clear; the Toronto Raptors plan to move forward, without looking back.

The latest recipient of that message; Alvin Williams.

After spending the majority of his nine-year playing career with the Raptors and serving in a number of roles with the organization -- including assistant coach, director of player development and most recently as a scout -- since 2009, the beloved former point guard was let go early Monday morning.

"It does [hurt]," Williams told TSN 1050 Radio. "It does to be honest. It's disappointing."

According to Williams, who guested on TSN Drive with Dave Naylor Monday evening, he and incoming general manager Masai Ujiri played telephone tag Sunday before Leiweke -- the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment -- broke the news to him over the phone a day later.

"He just basically said that he was going to give Masai the opportunity to start with a clean slate and move forward with the organization," Williams said of that conversation. "Unfortunately my contract wasn't renewed."

Hoping to dig the franchise out of its deepest hole, Toronto's expensive new brain trust was assembled to make some tough decisions. This decision will not be a popular one. For better or for worse Leiweke and Ujiri have promised change and no Raptor -- on the roster, among the coaching staff or in the front office -- epitomizes the past quite like Williams.

As a player, Williams won over fans in a hockey city with his hard-nosed approach and willingness to play through aches and pains. A second-round pick out of Villanova, he turned out to be the primary return in a deal that sent Damon Stoudamire -- Toronto's first ever franchise player -- to Portland over 15 years ago. In 2001 he was a crucial member of the Raptors team that won its first and only playoff series, ultimately being eliminated on the cusp of a Conference Finals birth.

Understandably, Williams also has ties to the current, underachieving era of Raptors basketball, having been around the team in multiple roles after knee injuries forced him into early retirement. The 38-year-old has a strong connection with a number of players on the roster, a roster that many expect to be tinkered with and maybe even gutted as early as this offseason. Williams has overseen the development of DeMar DeRozan, he maintains a close relationship with Rudy Gay and his friendship with Kyle Lowry -- a fellow Philadelphia native -- dates back to Lowry's senior year in high school. He's sparred with them in practice and mentored them off the court.

"Emotionally I'm tied to things," he admitted. "A lot of times that's what you need to do, you need to start from scratch to go forward. That's totally understood."

At times that has seemed like the destined course for Leiweke and Ujiri, both of whom have stressed change. With the franchise mired in a five-year playoff drought, what else are they going to preach?

"I inherit, I didn't create," said Leiweke, as he faced the assembled media in Toronto for the first time earlier this month. "And so from my standpoint this is today and we move forward from here."

Ed Stefanski was immediately let go following the hiring of Ujiri and Jim Kelly, a longtime scout and member of the organization since its inception, was also sent packing. But what of Bryan Colangelo, who remains with the team, albeit with slightly altered business cards? What of Dwane Casey, who is expected to stay on as the team's head coach? The question, as Raptors fans will see it; why was Williams the sacrificial lamb?

As Williams himself notes, this is a business. Ujiri will be given free reign to build his own team, from the roster all the way up to his staff, just as Leiweke promised. To some this move will come as a surprise. It may signify the end of an era, a heartless gesture that costs the embattled organization one of its greatest ambassadors. To others this will indicate a changing of the guard, the first in a series of bold moves. Moves that may one day propel the franchise back to where Williams helped lead it over a decade ago.

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