Shortly after Nikola Vucevic was traded to the Chicago Bulls, he asked team assistant equipment manager Steve Pankow to contact rookie Patrick Williams. Vucevic, who had worn No. 9 with the Orlando Magic, wanted to exchange numbers.
Williams’ jersey assignment came as a result of No. 4, his college number, being retired in honor of Jerry Sloan.
Williams had so little attachment to his No. 9 jersey he was willing to give it up for free — before he was informed it doesn’t really work like that.
“My initial thoughts were he can have it, just give it to him,” Williams said at shootaround before Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. “Steve and the rest of the guys, some of my vets, talked me through it, like, ‘No, usually you get some money or something for it.’
“At that point I was still like, ‘Man, you can just give it to him. Say welcome to the Chicago Bulls or something like that.’”
Vucevic did pay Williams to swap jersey numbers but Williams remained coy about the actual sum — “undisclosed” he said with a smile — and the rookie started sporting 44 after the trade deadline. Neither that nor the old No. 4 really carry much significance for Williams, though.
“I was going to give it to him for free,” Williams said. “That just shows the guy that he is that he even offered to givesomething.
He added: “I just play basketball. I don’t worry about a number. I’ve always kind of liked No. 4. I’m not sure why. It’s just a number. I’m just blessed to be out there and playing the game that I love.”
Although he knew the trade deadline was approaching, Williams admitted he hadn’t realized Thursday was the day, so it took him by surprise to get word of the trade that morning. And the Bulls rookie is one of many players who stands to gain from this revamped group.
Williams and Zach LaVine are the only Bulls starters who remain in the lineup after this latest roster overhaul. The new Bulls starting group features Vucevic, Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky, which represents an upgrade in passing and playmaking that should help get Williams more opportunities for offense.
Coach Billy Donovan has been looking for opportunities to get Williams more involved as a ball handler in the second half of the NBA season. That could turn into more plays like his alley-oop to Daniel Theis in the second quarter Monday night.
Adding two bigs at the deadline gives the Bulls a bit of a logjam in the front court, which means Williams is going to play more small forward for the rest of the season after bouncing back and forth between the forward positions. He didn’t think it would change his approach much , but he was looking forward to getting more comfortable sharing the floor with a player like Vucevic.
“Vooch is an All-Star. He’s great at what he does,” Williams said. “It just opens up driving lanes not only for me but for the rest of guys. He’s definitely just a really good person to have on the team.
“And in the locker room, he’s a really good guy from what I know and what I can see now. He definitely fits our culture here. We’re all still figuring it out, but having a guy who can do everything on the court, to pass, shoot 3s, to getting dirty in the post, he can do it all. He just makes it easier for us.”