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The NBA / Chris Baker : Gus Williams Adjusts to Seat on Hawk Bench

January 13, 1987|CHRIS BAKER

The Wiz has found a new home in Atlanta.

Guard Gus Williams, the all-time leader in steals in the National Basketball Assn., was signed Jan. 6 by the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks signed Williams to replace guard Spud Webb, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee last month.

Williams, a former USC star, is in his 10th NBA season.

It looked for a while as if he might not play again when the Washington Bullets failed to sign him. Williams was asking a reported $700,000 for one season.

Williams rejected Atlanta's first offer of $170,000, but the Hawks found a loophole in the NBA's salary cap that allowed them to sign the veteran guard as a free agent. The Hawks gave the Bullets a second-round draft pick in 1990 as compensation.

Williams, 33, said he had been prepared to sit out the season. He already is the only player in league history who missed an entire season because of a contract dispute. Williams sat out the 1980-81 season in Seattle.

"I've been through this before," he said of his latest contract dispute. "I knew something would happen. I played a lot of tennis at home in New York to keep in shape while I was out. I played basketball three times a week in a hot, sweaty gym with my brother (Ray)."

A starter for most of his career, Williams has had to adjust to a new role as a reserve with the Hawks.

He comes off the bench to replace starting guard Glenn (Doc) Rivers.

"I think the situation here is great," Williams said. "That's one of the big reasons I signed with Atlanta. Everyone welcomed me with open arms.

"Every minute I play, I'm getting more comfortable. The strength of Atlanta is the way the guys run and jump."

Said Atlanta star forward Dominique Wilkins: "We don't lose anything when Doc goes out of the game. Signing Gus was a great move. He's definitely going to help our team. He's like a sixth starter. He comes in and gets things done."

Said Cliff Levingston: "Gus is the type of guy we've been looking for to help the second team."

Hawk Coach Mike Fratello said: "We signed Gus as an injury insurance policy. With Gus Williams and Mike McGee in our backcourt, the second team doesn't lose anything."

World B. Free, another 33-year-old guard involved in a contract dispute, has also found a home--Philadelphia.

Free was the top-scoring guard in the NBA last season. The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, decided not to pick up the option year of his contract, which was worth a reported $725,000. The Cavaliers offered $400,000, with only half the money guaranteed.

Free rejected that and decided to wait for an offer from another team. "It was a frustrating feeling for a while, but it was something that I expected," he said. "My agent told me to prepare myself for it because of the salary cap. I thought I was going to sign with the Knicks, but it was getting too late and I didn't want to wait around anymore."

Free signed an offer sheet with the 76ers for a reported $250,000 Dec. 19 and joined the team Dec. 30.

"I just want one more year after this," Free said. "I'm pretty well set (financially). I've got three chains of liquor stores."

Free began his career with the 76ers in 1975. He played three seasons in Philadelphia before he was traded to the then San Diego Clippers, where he played two seasons. Free was later traded to Golden State and then to Cleveland.

"I feel real good to be back (in Philadelphia)," Free said. "The locker room has changed, and the only player that was here when I was here is Doc (Julius Erving). I never really left Philly. I've always kept a home here."

Free went 0 for 6 from the field in his first game with the 76ers.

"I'm not a gunner anymore," Free said. "That was my role when I left here. (Coach) Matt (Guokas) wants me to hit the open shot when they double-team Charles (Barkley) on the low post. He wants me to keep guys honest."

If the Seattle SuperSonics make the playoffs, they may not have a place to play their home games in the first round.

The Seattle Coliseum, where the SuperSonics play their home games, is booked by a convention.

The Mariners will be using the Kingdome, and there's a home show at the Tacoma Dome. The University of Washington's Hec Edmundson Pavilion is being used for a track meet.

And BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, is also being used.

"I don't want to push the panic button yet because the playoffs are a long ways away and we don't assume we'll be in," Seattle President Bob Whitsitt said. "But I'm frustrated and a little amazed."

Willis Reed, former New York Knick star who is an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, coached Clipper center Benoit Benjamin at Creighton University.

Asked to assess Benjamin, Reed said: "I think it's obvious that he's not moving very well. I don't think he's in very good shape."

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