Raptors retain Jerome Williams

Toronto Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald went on a free agent shopping spree, starting with all-star Antonio Davis on Wednesday and ending with fan favourite Jerome (Junk Yard Dog) Williams by Thursday.

Shortly after Davis reached a tentative agreement on a five-year, $60-plus million US contract, Williams agreed to a seven-year deal worth $40.8 million US.

Under NBA rules, neither agreement can be finalized until July 18.

"It was really a pre-emptive strike by the Raptors based on a terrific presentation they made to Jerome and really hitting all the right buttons," said Lon Babby, who represents Williams.

"It's a big day," Grunwald added. "Great elation, actually, because it could not have happened.

"All these players have various opportunities to go elsewhere and they're all good players. One of the tough things about this free agency year was our players, I thought, were among the top players available, which makes them more desirable for other teams."

Williams' value to the Raptors escalated further once Charles Oakley demanded to be traded.

Babby admitted that as many as 10-12 teams expressed interest in his client.

Reports also suggested that Alvin Williams had agreed to re-sign for five-years at $5 million US annually, but Bill Strickland, his agent, refuted such claims.

"That's totally inaccurate and premature," Strickland said. "We are continuing our dialogue with the Raptors as well as some other teams.

"And no decision or agreement has been reached."

"With Alvin, we're not quite there yet," Grunwald added. "But we'll continue to work on it and I'm optimistic we'll get something done."

Late last season, Toronto swung a Feb. 22 trade with Detroit for Eric Montross and Jerome Williams, who averaged 7.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg in 24.4 mpg in 33 appearances for the Pistons.

Williams, 28, managed 5.0 ppg and 4.0 rpg in 14.5 mpg in 26 rabid, yet limited appearances for the Raptors.

It was that lack of minutes which concerned Williams most.

"Jerome never complains," Babby said. "He's really about winning and being a great teammate.

"I think Jerome wanted to understand more completely how he would be used there. It wasn't a demand for more playing time, more of an explanation of how (head coach) Lenny Wilkens and the Raptors saw him in the picture.

"Jerome came away with an appreciation that his talents would be maximized in Toronto."

That said, the Raptors are counting on Williams' infectious enthusiasm to again energize the Raptors and electrify the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

"Jerome's decision reflected the extraordinary reception and enthusiasm with which he was met once he was traded to Toronto by the fans in Toronto and the Raptors' organization," Babby said. "So that gave them a huge leg up going into the process.

"And secondly, the Raptors deserve an enormous amount of credit. I would describe their approach to Jerome and the process as a textbook of how to re-sign their own free agents."

Alvin Williams, 26, blossomed under head coach Lenny Wilkens last season and firmly established himself as the starting point guard.

The Villanova product, acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 2, 1998, averaged 9.8 points, 5.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 29.2 minutes per game.

Williams' assists-to-turnover ratio (3.95) ranked second in the NBA and, with Davis and Jerome Williams back in the fold, the Raptors hope his return will convince Vince Carter to eventually re-sign too.

"I've talked to Vince and Vince is happy," Grunwald said. "I know Vince loved playing with Antonio and Jerome and we had some success as a team and I know Vince wants to see Alvin come back as well."

Carter had a hand in securing the pair of free agents, doing his work behind the scenes."