Inside the erratic and uncertain life of an NBA two-way player

Inside C.J. Williams' 5-year road to the NBA (1:42)

Five years of persistence and failure contributed to Clippers rookie C.J. Williams' journey across four countries to the NBA as a two-way G League player. (1:42)

Forty-five days.

That was the maximum length of time C.J. Williams could spend with the LA Clippers as a two-way player, one of two additional spots on a now-17-man roster, new for the 2017-18 season. The 45-day caveat with the Clips included practices, travel and games. To avoid unnecessarily hitting the limit, all other official basketball time had to be spent with the G League affiliate team.

So up and down the 28-year-old rookie out of NC State went, back and forth between Los Angeles and Ontario, California, where the Agua Caliente Clippers are located. He put plenty of miles on his 2003 Infiniti sedan, but it was all part of the journey after playing everywhere from Cyprus to Italy to France.

This season, only the Phoenix Suns have relied on more minutes from two-way players than the Clippers, who've dealt with more injuries than Doc Rivers said he has ever experienced in his coaching career. Most have had sporadic call-ups to the NBA and logged few minutes, but Williams and two-way teammate Tyrone Wallace have started a combined 28 games and become integral pieces to the Clippers' roster.

The clock was ticking, though, and Williams' 45 days are up. He's back in the G League, unsure of what comes next. Here's how he got there:

Tuesday, Jan. 9: Arrival in Oakland

It's Day 41 for Williams as the Clippers arrive in Oakland ahead of a Wednesday matchup with the Golden State Warriors. The day before, Williams hit the winning 3-pointer to beat the Atlanta Hawks.


Williams hits the 3-pointer for the win

C.J. Williams drains the winning 3 to give the Clippers the win over the Hawks.

"When he hits a game-winning shot, like he did last night, you feel so, so good for him because of the journey," Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank says. "As good as a player he is, he's a better person, and I know it's a cliché, but with him, his character and professionalism is so impressive.

"Because of the two-way, not only has he helped us, he's shown that he's an NBA player. Without a two-way contract, who knows? Maybe no one would have known that C.J. Williams is an NBA-roster player. And this opportunity will be a game-changer and potentially a life-changer."


Williams recalls winning shot

Williams discusses a talk he had with his agent about realizing how far he has come after hitting the winning shot against Atlanta.

Wednesday, Jan. 10: Game day vs. the Warriors | Day 42

The Clippers start a two-game Northern California road trip at Golden State. Williams and the team take part in shootaround in Oakland in the morning. Blake Griffin and Milos Teodosic travel but are out against the Warriors, so Williams is set to play a key role again.


Williams practices with the Clippers

He was initially signed to an Exhibition 10, non-guaranteed deal and had to compete against other players for a two-way spot at the start of the season.


Rivers: Williams has earned right to start

Added Williams: "With Doc since day one, he's told me, 'Play your game.'"

Learning to play wherever, whenever

The salary for the year while playing in the G League on a two-way contract is $75,000, and the allocated amount is prorated for the days of service that Williams is with the Agua Caliente Clippers ($528 per day). By comparison, players on G League-only deals have a maximum salary of $26,000 for the season.

Williams also earns $4,608 for each service day with the LA Clippers. After 45 days, the amount totals $207,360.

It helps that Williams is low-maintenance, shopping at stores like H&M and driving his 15-year-old car. When he travels in the G League, he shares a room with a teammate. When he's with the NBA club, he gets his own room. He lives in Ontario, and the Clippers put him up in a hotel when he's with the NBA team.

It's not exactly a double life, but Williams merges the highs of NBA luxury and the modesty of the minor leagues.


Williams on crazy travel between NBA and G League

"I live out of a suitcase," Williams says.


Williams on the difference between Staples and the G League

One is a full arena. The other? A gym with 20 people.

Game night

Williams starts the Jan. 10 game with Griffin, Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers all out. Doc Rivers has used 19 starting lineups at this point.


Williams arrives and practices early

"Just last year I was watching [Golden State] in the Finals," Williams said. "And now I'm playing against them."

Williams scores 10 points and shoots 50 percent from the field in the first half. At the start of the second half, he drives to the basket and makes a layup -- but goes down on the shot after landing awkwardly on his ankle.


Williams exits with apparent ankle injury

C.J. Williams drives and scores a tough bucket over Draymond Green, but lands awkwardly on his ankle and has to be helped off the floor.


Williams reacts to ankle sprain

After the Clippers' win over the Warriors, Williams talks about how the injury will affect him.

Wallace, Williams' locker-room neighbor, finishes Game 3 of the 21 he will eventually play before his two-way-contract call-up days are fulfilled. The second-year point guard from Cal averaged 10.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and the Clips posted a plus-4.4 net rating in his 581 minutes.


Ty Wallace making the most of his opportunity

Wallace says it's a "dream" to get called up from the G League and have an opportunity in the NBA.

Thursday, Jan. 11: Off to Sacramento | Day 43

The Clippers travel north to Sacramento to face the Kings. Williams misses the game because of his right ankle sprain but travels and remains with the team, knocking one more day off his total.


Williams arrives at Golden 1 Center

He'll stay in the locker room during the Clippers' win over the Kings to get treatment.


Williams expects to be out a few weeks

His days of service for the Clippers will freeze at 43 out of 45 while he rehabs, and won't resume until he returns.

The rehab process

From Jan. 12 to Feb. 27, Williams rehabs his sprained ankle with Agua Caliente as his day count freezes at 43.

"It's hard sometimes when you're injured," Williams says in February. "We're competitors, so we want to be out there playing. It's difficult, but at the same time you understand that injuries are a part of the game. You have to be able to fight through it and keep yourself in it mentally and be ready for the next time you can play."

Feb. 28, March 2: Called back up | Days 44 and 45

After a nearly month-and-a-half break between NBA games, Williams starts for the Clippers in a loss to Houston and then -- on the final day of his two-way deal -- logs 26 minutes in a win over the Knicks.


Williams recalls advice of Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy coached Williams on the 2017 USA Basketball AmeriCup team that won a gold medal.

Now it's early March, and both Williams and Wallace have exhausted their days of service. What happens next is unknown. They'll stay in the G League unless they're signed or waived. When the G League season ends March 24, they can rejoin the Clippers, but they would become playoff-eligible only with a rest-of-season contract or new deal.

Unable to reach an agreement with either player, LA added guard Sean Kilpatrick on a 10-day contract this week, although Doc Rivers didn't rule out a return for one of his two-way standouts.

"We're still negotiating with Ty and C.J.'s agents," Rivers said Sunday. "While that's going on, we're not gonna stop. We can't wait for them. So right now, we're just looking for players who can help our team.

"If Sean comes in and earns it, it'll be his job. Or, we'll go back to C.J. and Ty. We like them all, but we still have to figure out who the best fit is."

The Clippers have explored using the remaining portion of their midlevel exception to sign Williams or Wallace to a multiyear deal, according to league sources. The contract would mirror that of Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell, with future years non-guaranteed, but that's not appealing for either player. Known as the Hinkie contract in league circles (after former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie), the deal does not provide much financial security and can lock players into long-term contracts they're likely to outperform. Such a deal would put Williams under contract until his early 30s, potentially missing out on ever making more than the minimum.

If the status quo holds, LA can make both players restricted free agents in the offseason by extending qualifying offers before June 30.

Williams and Wallace found a niche on a good team, but having the ability to belong in the NBA isn't always the barrier. Rosters are complicated. Negotiations stall. Needs change. And proving yourself doesn't lead to certainty.

ESPN's Bobby Marks contributed to this story.