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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

After securing long-term deal for Robert Williams, Celtics need him to develop and stay healthy

Celtics center Robert Williams III had a brilliant series against the Nets, when he blocked nine shots in Game 1 and completely altered the Nets’ offensive approach.Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens continues his crusade to sign every returning player to long-term contracts, this time with a four-year deal to secure rising center Robert Williams.

Stevens had until October to give Williams, 23, an extension on his rookie contract but made the astute move of giving the former Texas A&M standout long-term security in exchange for a manageable deal — $13.5 million per season.

That seasonal sum may sound like a lot for a player who has yet to prove he can stay healthy and has yet to play a full NBA season, but it will eventually become a bargain if Williams continues to develop.


A yearly salary of $13.5 million would make Williams the 94th highest paid player in the NBA, according to Doug McDermott, Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, and Thaddeus Young earn more money than this Williams contract.

So it’s a bargain in NBA circles, especially if Williams plays the way he did in the Brooklyn series, where he blocked nine shots in Game 1 and completely altered the Nets’ offensive approach. Williams can be a game-changing player and he took such a large step forward last season that only health issues prevented an even bigger impact.

Stevens was smart enough to invest enough money — $54 million over four years — to get Williams to commit long term to Boston without wrecking their salary cap or creating another unmovable contract.

Contracts of Williams’s worth are easier to trade than a decade ago because the league’s new salary structure created during the collective bargaining agreement in 2011 essentially eliminated the NBA middle class. So Williams is considered the new NBA middle class and his contract could be included in deals in case the Celtics want to make a salary-cap clearing move.

The next step for the Celtics is to keep Williams from getting nagging and consistent injuries that keep him out of key games. Williams has played 113 games over three NBA seasons, playing in 52 of 72 games in 2020-21. The Celtics need more Williams. And they have already invested more in his development by re-acquiring Al Horford to serve as a mentor.


Horford had a positive effect on Williams during his rookie season and will be critical in helping the fourth-year player take the next step.

What was encouraging about Williams’s production last season was his improved ability to protect the rim. He averaged 1.8 blocked shots in just 18.9 minutes and the Celtics want to ramp up his minutes to near 30 this season.

Considering his injury troubles over the first three seasons — hip edema, knee and ankle issues — it would be foolish to think they will dissipate this season but the Celtics are hoping that he will receive good fortune and also a more mature body that will be able to handle the rigors of the NBA.

With the re-signing of Marcus Smart to join Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who are already on long-term contracts, Stevens has signed the core of the team with no contract issues this coming offseason. With Horford’s contract for 2022-23 only guaranteed for $14.5 million, Stevens can create enough cap space to still pursue a maximum free agent.

The salaries of Josh Richardson, Kris Dunn, and Dennis Schroder all expire after this season. The message Stevens is sending to not only Celtics players but the rest of the NBA is that he will financially compensate trusted players with long-term deals.


Boston still is not a vogue free-agent destination and the organization has secured Brown, Tatum and Smart, preventing all from hitting unrestricted free agency. Williams would have been a restricted free agent next summer if he had not agreed to this extension.

Stevens is making his homegrown players feel as if they’re part of the organization’s future. And with Smart and Williams, they agreed to deals that can eventually be included in bigger deals. Stevens also has a $17.1 million trade exception created by the Evan Fournier deal to use in a trade for an impact player.

The Celtics will begin training camp next month with optimism because of a retooled roster and a veteran core that will not have contract concerns. He has supplied new coach Ime Udoka with the opportunity to flourish right away, and Williams could be an important part of the Celtics’ ascension next season.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.