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Robert Williams III Out for the Season: What it Means
The Trail Blazers' backup center will undergo right knee surgery and be sidelined for the rest of the year.
Robert Williams III will be required to miss the rest of the season with a right knee injury, the Trail Blazers announced on Friday. Williams will undergo a surgery to repair ligament damage.
Williams suffered the injury early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 112-100 loss to Memphis. The next day, it was determined that he would need surgery. The Blazers and Williams’ representatives continued to work through their options, which included a cleanup procedure that would have had a shorter recovery timeline. Ultimately, they opted for a surgery that will fully repair the damage in his knee and keep him out the rest of the year.
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Considering Williams’ lengthy injury history—he had two surgeries on his left knee in 2022 and has only played 50 or more games twice in six seasons—as well as the Blazers being in the early stages of a rebuild, it made sense for everybody involved for Williams to have the surgery that gave him the best chance at a long-term recovery.
Now, the Blazers have a big hole to fill at backup center. In his first six games for Portland after coming over from Boston right before training camp in the Jrue Holiday deal, Williams was the same impactful rim protector and defender he was in five seasons with the Celtics. He’d been playing both alongside Deandre Ayton at power forward in some lineups and backing him up at center.
In Wednesday’s overtime loss in Sacramento, the Blazers’ first game since Williams’ injury, Chauncey Billups used Moses Brown, who had four points, three rebounds and a block in five minutes. Jabari Walker will continue to play center in some smaller lineups, and it’s likely that Duop Reath, who is currently with the Rip City Remix on a two-way contract, will be recalled soon and see some time.
The Blazers have an open roster spot and some money to play with if they want to look outside the organization to find another big man. They have their full $12.4 million mid-level exception, which they did not use this summer in free agency, as well as the $4.5 million biannual exception. They also have two trade exceptions, worth $8.8 million and $8.3 million. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted after news of Williams’ surgery first broke, the Blazers could apply for a Disabled Player Exception worth $5.7 million (half of Williams’ $11.5 million salary) that they could use to acquire a player. They’re currently $5.3 million below the luxury-tax line.
It’s unclear whether the Blazers will look to add a player in the short term to replace Williams. It’s more likely in the immediate future that they will attempt to replace him with what they have and give Brown, Walker and Reath the chance to develop.
The 26-year-old Williams has two years left after this one on the four-year, $48 million extension he signed with the Celtics in 2021. He’s set to earn $12.4 million next season and $13.2 million in 2025-26—great value for his production when healthy, but that’s been a question for most of his career. There’s been speculation around the league since the trade that Williams, like Malcolm Brogdon, could draw trade interest from a contender before the Feb. 8 deadline. That’s out the window now that Williams is missing the rest of the season, but if he’s recovering well, he could get offers this summer or before next season’s deadline.
Those are all questions to be answered many months from now. In the meantime, the Blazers will be without one of their most important rotation players for the rest of this season.