DETROIT — The message to forward Patrick Williams from the Bulls’ organization last week was loud and clear.
With a chance to reward Williams with an extension off his rookie contract, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas reckoned there was too big of a divide between his camp’s asking price and what the front -office was willing to offer.
The Bulls simply let the deadline pass, making Williams a restricted free agent this summer and allowing the outside market to set a price on him. The Bulls can decide to match it or let him walk.
A good old-fashioned benching would’ve been a more immediate message, but it didn’t come Saturday night against the Pistons even though coach Billy Donovan didn’t rule out lineup changes as he continues to experiment with different looks.
So the No. 4 overall pick from the 2020 draft started again despite getting off to an underwhelming start this season and had no points, three rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes in the Bulls’ 118-102 loss to Detroit.
“I wouldn’t do it from the standpoint of, ‘Oh, I’m just taking him out of the starting lineup because he’s got to do this, this and this, and he’s not doing it,’ ’’ Donovan said. “I think it would be more of, ‘What’s the best thing for our team?’ And then making the decision based on that.’’
The best thing for the team might be starting Torrey Craig and bringing Williams off the bench with the second unit.
Williams has had fewer passive moments during the preseason and regular season, but there’s also a lot he’s still not doing. He remains one of the team’s better wing defenders, but his ballhandling seems to have taken a step back, and he’s not rebounding at nearly the rate he should.
With his build, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a double-digit rebounder.
“I still think there are things that [Williams] can control with his athleticism and size that he’s got to control in terms of getting to the backboard, getting out in transition,’’ Donovan said. “I don’t look at it as a disappointment. I look at it as every guy kind of has his own journey. A coach always just wants it to flower now, and some guys go through it. This is a guy who is 22, and I’m not using his age as an excuse, but he’s got a pretty long runway to continue to get better.
“Everybody’s course is different, and I try to understand that. But at the same point, we’re still trying to coach him and help him understand how he can impact the game.’’
Donovan isn’t the only one to feel that way, either.
DeMar DeRozan has taken Williams under his wing the last few seasons and sees a player who’s still trying to figure it out.
“Everything is a learning experience, and I never stop talking to him if he’s playing well, if he’s playing bad, if he’s struggling, if he’s thinking too much,’’ DeRozan said. “It’s one of those things where I look at him like a little brother, and I expressed to him how much of a journey playing in the NBA really is. He’s got to learn from it.
“I know he’s working his butt off. I know all the stuff that he does behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t get to see. Once it clicks for him, he’ll be fine.’’