Less than a month after the Boston Celtics likely lost Danilo Gallinari for the season with an ACL injury, they received some more troubling news. This time it was a Heavy.com report revealing that Robert Williams—penciled in as the team’s starting center—would undergo microscopic surgery that would cause him to miss all of training camp and very likely the start of the regular NBA season.
Assuming the news is correct, it leaves a huge hole in Boston’s big man depth as the team had already planned to avoid playing Al Horford on back-to-back nights. First of all, they were hoping that a healthy Gallinari would fill-in at power forward and possibly even in a pinch at center. Now the Celtics will be without Williams for the next four-to-six weeks and, when he returns, he will be playing on a knee that will have been operated on twice in the span of six months.
Right now, this leaves Grant Williams—who already had plenty of leverage for the extension he is currently seeking—to play power forward while Horford fills in at center while perhaps occasionally playing a small-ball five. Behind him lies cult favorite Luke Kornet, who has yet to shown that he’s a reliable regular contributor at the NBA level, and recently signed two-way player Mfiondu Kabengele, who is, well, a two-way player.
The big man options currently available in free agency are, as one could guess, rather slim. Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins are the biggest names still on the market, but there are very real reasons why no teams have picked them up. More likely, Williams’s reported absence could transform the Celtics’ upcoming training camp competition into a hunt for a (large) diamond in the rough at the center position.
Ultimately, this is most worrying on a macro level. Williams had his surgery to repair a meniscus tear back in March, but accelerated his recovery time in order to return to the court for the playoffs. While that was understandable—the team would not have made it to the NBA Finals without him—there were also concerns at the time that he could experience further health complications.
While this could be understood as a gamble made by a player and a team doing whatever it takes to win a championship, the timing of this potential surgery is a bit puzzling. A little over a month ago, all the signs about Williams’s knee were positive. Now, he’s having surgery just weeks before training camp is set to begin, leading to understandable questions about the Celtics’ medical staff: this is a procedure that should have been completed as early as possible.
This wouldn’t be the first time the staff came under fire. Back in June, former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas reacted to an article reporting that Williams was told playing on his injured knee wouldn’t exacerbate it with a simple tweet: “heard that before lol.” During the 2017 playoffs, Thomas played through a serious hip injury, something which he rightfully believes permanently altered the trajectory of his NBA career.
In Williams’s case, it’s likely that neither team nor player would regret their course of action during the postseason. Once Williams returned, he helped bring the team just two victories away from capturing a title. Still, Boston fans can only hope that the homegrown center, who will be under contract until the 2025-26 season, does not go through the same medical journey that Thomas did.