In 2005, then-Charlotte Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff was adamant he would have drafted North Carolina’s Marvin Williams No. 1 overall if he had that pick.
The Bobcats had two first-round picks. They took North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton with the fifth overall selection and Tar Heels teammate Sean May, a power forward, with the 13th pick.
Since that draft, Williams doesn’t have All-Star appearances, like Chris Paul, the fourth pick in that year’s draft, or a championship ring like top pick Andrew Bogut. But things turned out just right for Williams after he was chosen second overall by the Atlanta Hawks.
And they ultimately turned out where he always wanted to be, where Bickerstaff envisioned him.
"When I came out of college, I wanted to go to Charlotte to stay close to Chapel Hill," said Williams, who spent a single season at North Carolina before turning pro. "Twelve years later I’m really happy playing here and living here."
It’s been a great fit. Williams originally signed with the Hornets in the summer of 2014, then re-signed for four seasons and about $54 million in July.
Both in skill set and attitude, he epitomizes what Hornets coach Steve Clifford wanted: a power forward with a reliable 3-point shot (40.2 percent last season) who was defensively versatile.
"To me, he’s such a winning player. He totally fits what this league is all about," Clifford said.
"He’s a stretch 4, so he creates space (with his 3-point shooting). Defensively, he can guard the smaller 4s who shoot 3s and drive the ball, and the bigger 4s who post it. There aren’t many guys who can do that."
Beyond that, Williams is the polar opposite of a prima donna. He sets a tone in that locker room that would be hard to replace.
"It’s never about, ‘I can do this’ or ‘I need to do this.’ " Clifford said. "He views the game in a very team-oriented way."
Which helps to explain why Williams is still so valuable 12 seasons into his NBA career. Eight of the 14 lottery picks in that 2005 draft are out of the NBA. Meanwhile, Williams is coming off a career season that pushed Hornets management to lock him down the first day of free agency.
The Hornets’ top priority was shooting guard Nic Batum. Four team executives, plus players Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, flew to Dallas to convince Batum to re-sign the minute such meetings were allowed under NBA rules July 1.
The next step was for Clifford to meet for breakfast with Williams before Clifford left for Orlando summer league.
"We just wanted Marvin and Nic to know they were the priorities," Clifford said. "It was ‘Here is why we want you here.’ ‘Here is why we consider you important.’ "
Not that this required a huge sales pitch. Williams found a home here, both with the team and the city. So long as the Hornets could be competitive in salary, he was always predisposed to staying put.
It just makes sense: Clifford requested the role in which Williams has excelled. That required a lot of off-season work. He hardly ever shot 3-pointers early in his NBA career, but he reinvented his game with the help of Hornets assistant coach Pat Delany.
Nearly every day the past two summers, Delany drilled Williams on the nuances of becoming a fine long-range shooter. It was more about Williams’ feet than his arms or hands.
"He put me in some uncomfortable positions shooting the basketball - little things with my feet I had never done before," Williams described. "I usually step in with the left foot and bring around the right foot and he kind of flipped that around. He had me shooting from different angles and catching all kinds of passes – bad-hop type of passes or low passes.
"He did a great job of making me uncomfortable, and I’m so comfortable now because of the repetition."
The reward for all that is a big salary and familiar surroundings. That’s enough for Williams. He said he doesn’t crave stardom.
"’I’ve never asked to be ‘the guy.’ I’d rather be a part of something bigger," Williams said. "When you’re winning, it’s always fun."