Williams' return from hiatus progressing
Jason Williams' comeback from a one-year retirement will move a step closer to reality Friday after the Los Angeles Clippers formally waived their exclusive rights to negotiate with him, according to NBA front-office sources.
Following the standard seven-day offseason wait to clear waivers, Williams will then become a free agent, joining Jamaal Tinsley -- who was bought out Wednesday by the Indiana Pacers -- as a late but proven addition to the summer market for point guards.
The Clippers, sources said, had a Thursday deadline from the league office to exercise their exclusive rights to re-sign Williams after the 33-year signed a one-year deal with them last August, only to decide in September to place himself on the league's voluntarily retired list to spend more time with his family.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers -- who last week traded for Sebastian Telfair and have made well-publicized overtures in free agency to Ramon Sessions and Allen Iverson -- have decided not to extend a new offer to Williams.
In February, Williams' request to be immediately reinstated by the NBA was denied by a vote of 24 teams to six. League bylaws state that players wishing to return from the official Voluntarily Retired List need unanimous approval from all 30 teams to avoid a one-year mandatory waiting period.
Williams becomes eligible to play in exhibition, regular-season and playoff games on the one-year anniversary of his official retirement, which is Sept. 26. But he will be free to sign with any of the other 29 teams as soon as he clears waivers. In the unlikely event that he is claimed on waivers -- since Williams is not currently under contract -- the claiming team would acquire the exclusive rights to negotiate with him that the Clippers have relinquished.
Back in February, agent Dan Tobin told ESPN.com that the 10-year veteran was determined to come back in spite of the ruling that prevented Williams from latching on with a contender late last season.
"We anticipated this decision," Tobin said then. "So did Jason. But we look forward to seeing Jason back in the NBA in the 2009-10 season.
"One of the reasons we applied for reinstatement now was that we'd like to try to accelerate the process of him coming back."
The six teams that voted against letting Williams return last season were Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Minnesota, San Antonio and the Clippers themselves. One suggested motivation for teams blocking Williams' return was an assumption that he would have quickly parted ways with L.A. after reinstatement and signed with a playoff contender for this season's stretch run.
After signing a one-year deal with the Clippers in August, Williams abruptly changed his mind in September, informing the team that he was prepared to forfeit his contract and promptly filed retirement papers with the league.
In 679 regular-season games, Williams averaged 11.4 points, 6.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds while playing for Sacramento, Memphis and Miami. He has appeared in 53 playoff games, averaging 9.8 points, 3.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds and helping the Heat win its first and only championship in 2006.
He was drafted by Sacramento in 1998 following his junior year at the University of Florida and was named to the 1999 NBA All-Rookie Team after averaging 12.8 points and 6.0 assists, quickly becoming one of the most popular players in the Kings' Sacramento history in tandem with Chris Webber.
Williams was dealt to Memphis in a trade featuring Mike Bibby before the 2001-02 season and over the next four seasons became the Grizzlies' career leader in assists and 3-point attempts. He joined the Heat before the 2005-06 season as part of a trade by team president Pat Riley which drew considerable criticism initially, before Williams and Antoine Walker helped Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and Riley win a championship in the newcomers' first season in Miami.
Williams' request to be reinstated has been described as unchartered territory because a player walking away from an active contract is so uncommon.
"My wife was pregnant at the time and it wasn't going too smoothly," Williams said in June of his sudden retirement in an interview with the Charleston Daily Mail in his native West Virginia. "I just thought it was the right decision for my family.
"I'm just so blessed to have three healthy kids. It was tough [last season] because I missed playing, but I was glad to be home with my family."
Williams also told the newspaper that he would "like to play two or three more years" but insisted that "if it doesn't happen, trust me, I won't lose any sleep."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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