When he first hit the hardwood after an in-air collision with Mitchell Robinson during the Chicago Bulls’ Thursday night loss to the New York Knicks, Patrick Williams noticed stiffness in his left wrist.
As he stepped to the free-throw line for two shots after the Robinson foul was ruled a Flagrant 1, the since-taped wrist shook uncontrollably. Williams winced and grimaced as he took — and made — both free throws, but checked out of the contest moments later.
Williams said his mentality heading back to the locker room was that the injury would be, at worst, a “bad sprain.” But an MRI revealed torn ligaments in his wrist that will require surgery, and, according to the team, sideline the second-year forward for four-to-six months. The operation is scheduled for Oct. 31.
“It was just hard to wrap my head around it,” Williams said of his reaction to the diagnosis. “I didn't really have much to say, honestly, when they told me. There's not really much you can say in that situation."
Williams had productive stints with the USA Basketball Select Team, and with the Bulls at Summer League, during the offseason between his first and second NBA seasons. In September, he suffered an ankle sprain that cost him much of training camp and preseason, but returned to the starting lineup for the first five games of the regular season.
The wrist injury presents another brutal layer of adversity, and jeopardizes nearly a full season of development for the 20-year-old potential cornerstone.
“It sucks," he said. "You just put in so much time over the summer. Lot of thoughts, lot of emotions that go into it. It's easy to look at it as something bad, but I'm just trying to not really think about that as much and look forward. But it definitely sucks. There's nothing good about being injured, nothing good about sitting out on the sideline.”
Williams addressed reporters after the Bulls’ Saturday morning shootaround, with a cast covering his left forearm and a basketball tucked against his right hip. Since the diagnosis, he’s tried to shift his mindset to how he can continue to be engaged with the team while rehabbing. He spent Saturday’s session passing to teammates as they got shots up.
"Whatever they say I can do, I'll definitely do," Williams said, referring to the doctors assigned to his case.
But an arduous path forward awaits. A return at the front end of the team-sanctioned timeline would see him return in late February 2022, just after the All-Star break; a return at the back end would be in late April, near the end of the first round of the playoffs (which begin April 16).
“That's definitely the goal, is to come back and play this season,” Williams said. “I think it just depends on how the surgery goes… It's hard to build a plan before the surgery. But tomorrow (Oct. 31), when we have the surgery, I think that first week, from what they're (doctors) telling me, is just wrapping my mind around: ‘This is my reality.’ And then that following week it's kind of building that plan for the next month and then the next month after that.
“For now, it's just been coming here (the Bulls’ facility), trying to stay as involved as I can, trying to stay as engaged as I can, talking to the guys, picking their brain, things like that. Just shifting my mind to how I can use this time to get better instead of looking at it like it's so easy as a default or as something bad.”
Williams said he has received words of encouragement and advice from all of his teammates since the diagnosis. DeMar DeRozan, he added, even gifted him a book titled “The Undefeated Mind,” which the 13-year veteran said helped him during his recovery from a groin injury earlier in his career.
“A lot of guys have been through injuries in their career. We have a lot of guys who have been in the league for a long time. So if they haven't gone through an injury like this, they've seen somebody who's gone through an injury like this or they know somebody who's gone through an injury like this,” Williams said. “They've all been super helpful, just communicating to me, just making sure that I'm feeling alright. And that helps. Honestly, if you can't be out there, just knowing that they have your back, no matter what, it helps.”
Williams stressed multiple times in his comments that his focus is on what’s in front of him. In that vein, he said there are “no hard feelings” toward Robinson, who Williams noted approached him during Thursday's game to say he didn’t intend to injure him with the ill-fated shot contest. Williams was attempting a dunk on the play.
“I gave him (Robinson) a dap, and that was pretty much it,” Williams said. “It was a basketball play from what I saw. He was trying to block a shot but also try to get out of the way.”
The Bulls play the first game since losing their starting power forward Saturday against the Utah Jazz. An already-thin frontcourt rotation will be even more strained, with Javonte Green likely to take on enhanced responsibilities. Tyler Cook, who is on a two-way contract with the Windy City Bulls, was recalled from the G League and offers another wing/forward option along with Troy Brown Jr., Derrick Jones Jr. and Alize Johnson.
Williams can’t wait to be back. But, for now, he's braced for the road to recovery.
“With the career that I want to have — I want to have a 10-15 year career — injuries are gonna happen,” he said. “I knew that coming in. You never really think about it. But it's just something that comes with the game. So (I) just gotta take it head on and attack it.”