The Raptors courted former Chicago Bulls point guard Jay Williams last year and the infatuation has continued.
Williams, considered one of the best young point guards in the NBA prior to his suffering horrific injuries in a motorcycle accident three years ago, worked out for the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre yesterday and expressed interest in signing as a free agent with Toronto.
"The opportunity here is tremendous," said Williams, who wore a bandage over his left eye after being cut in workouts. "You talk about Chris Bosh, I saw him at Georgia Tech. He has grown and become a better player. Charlie Villanueva, from draft day, a lot of guys killing him, to scoring 48 points in a game. MoPete ... all the pieces of the puzzle are here. The possibilities are exciting."
If the Raptors and Williams reach an agreement -- and that's certainly not guarantee as Williams will work out for several more NBA teams this month -- it's likely Toronto would abandon the Mike James sweepstakes. James, who put together a career year for the Raptors last season, is eligible to drop out of the final year of his contract and sign a long-term deal with another team.
Williams, 24, led Duke to a national championship in 2001 and was a first-round draft pick by the Bulls (second overall). He experienced a roller coaster ride as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists in 75 games, but demonstrated enough on-court ability and leadership to be considered a potential future all-star at the point. He certainly would come a lot cheaper than James, who is looking for, in the neighbourhood, of $5 million to $8 million US per year.
Williams' promising future came to a crashing halt in June 2003. While driving a motorcycle, the Plainfield, N.J., native slammed into a utility pole and suffered a series of career-threatening injuries, including a severed main nerve in a leg, a fractured pelvis and three torn ligaments in his left knee. For the past year or so, he has worked hard to rebuild his broken body. Williams believes he is ready right now.
"I feel great," he said. "I still feel fearless when I go (on the court). I got a stitch in my left eye already. It's kind of good. I put my hand on my face and it's bleeding, I'm like, 'I forgot how this feels.' I have no fear of playing basketball."
Williams believes he would be a good fit for the rebuilding Toronto squad, which is in the market for a pass-first guard.
"Like I told the guys here, I'm not going to be a point guard and try to score 40 points," he said. "I'm going to be a guy who tries to get all my teammates involved and make everybody around me look like all-stars and win basketball games.
"The thing I like about Toronto is, it's a winning kind of atmosphere. Guys want to win, guys want to be great players, and you can't say that for every franchise.
"They're definitely on the right path and getting better."
Jim Kelly, the Raptors director of player personnel, said the team was impressed with Williams yesterday, but would like to see him play in a full game situation.