Offseason days with DeMar DeRozan start at 5 a.m.
Patrick Williams learned the lesson the hard way, bleary eyed as he sat shotgun in DeRozan’s car on the short drive to the gym in Los Angeles.
“Five on the dot,” Williams said. “Not 5:01, not 4:59 — 5 a.m.,” Williams said. “You can’t be pulling in the parking lot at 5 a.m. We probably got there at 4:30. I was still sleepy when he came to pick me up.”
Those early mornings were the payment for a transformative summer with the Chicago Bulls veteran leader.
After Williams had a frustrating season dominated by a left wrist injury, DeRozan knew the young forward needed guidance heading into his third season in Chicago. He set the itinerary for the third-year forward’s offseason: take a trip to Los Angeles and learn how to prepare with the best.
“Even before the season ended last year, I was telling him how important this summer is for him,” DeRozan said. “He didn’t really understand why I was saying it. But coming into his third year, so much experience and understanding of what needs to be done is gained in your first two years. You kind of let it all out going into your third year.”
“Me telling him that wasn’t to put pressure on him. It was more so giving him the comfort of him understanding what he can do on the court.”
DeRozan relished the opportunity to put Williams through hell, grinning slyly any time he was asked about their summer together. Williams wouldn’t give away the full workout — which DeRozan originally developed with Kobe Bryant — but emphasized the daily routine was designed to be grueling.
The pair started with a “tough lift” at 5 a.m. focused on core exercises, taxing their bodies to exhaustion before hitting the court. Their morning workouts often emphasized double- and triple-team drills, replicating game situations with added defenders to force creativity and efficiency in finishing.
“If that wasn’t everything, then he’s different,” Williams said.
DeRozan preferred the early-morning workouts so he still could spend time with his family, dedicating the bulk of his days to time with his children before heading back to the gym for a late workout.
In the evenings, DeRozan welcomed Williams to his inner circle, taking him to dinners and outings with his family. The connection was organic — all DeRozan asked in exchange was a promise by Williams to pass on the mentorship to a younger player later in his career.
For Williams, those weeks offered a lesson in life as much as in basketball: Take care of your body, take care of your family, keep things simple.
“You just get a deeper appreciation for who (DeRozan) is as a person,” Williams said. “Of course, we know the player that he is, but I really got a deeper appreciation for who he is as a person, the way he thinks about things. He sees and thinks about things that a lot of people wouldn’t.”
With starting point guard Lonzo Ball expected to miss several months after undergoing left knee surgery, Williams stands to be one of the most important players on the roster this season.
The Bulls, who were the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, emphasized consistency in the offseason, opting to make only two major acquisitions — Andre Drummond and Goran Dragić. As a result, only a few players have the ceiling to make a leap — and Williams is at the forefront.
The wrist injury limited Williams to a modest nine points and 4.1 rebounds in 17 games last season. But a healthy Williams could be a game-changer — if he can find the confidence to approach the rim with more aggression.
That could put pressure on a 21-year-old who struggled to find his footing in his first two seasons. But after months on the sideline during rehab, Williams welcomes the anticipation for his role this season.
“I wouldn’t say I feel pressure,” Williams said. “To me, it’s exciting to have people in your corner, to have people who have your back and want to see you do well. It’s definitely a challenge. It would be a challenge for anybody. But for me to be the player I want to be and for us to be the team we know we can be, I know I play a part in that.”
Williams felt he was overweight last season, particularly when he watched film over the summer. So he used the offseason to experiment with his body, using different lifting approaches to settle into a more comfortable weight.
Although Williams said he weighs the same as last season, his upper body was visibly slimmer in the first week of training camp.
“I wasn’t able to move the way I wanted to,” Williams said. “Coming back from the wrist injury, obviously you’re not able to lift as well as you want to, to do everything in the weight room you want to. So this summer was a chance to really lock in. … I feel a little bit more athletic. I just feel ready.”
Williams took only six shots per game in his second season. He often stuttered on his way to the basket, hands tentative as he took the ball to the rim or attempted a jumper.
It’s not surprising for a young player whose season was marred by injury to hesitate while returning. But Williams can’t show the same hesitancy this year.
For coach Billy Donovan, encouraging Williams’ aggression will be a key in the early weeks of the season. But even if the Bulls draw up plays to put the ball in the forward’s hands, Donovan said the confidence to finish comes down to Williams.
“You can put him in situations where you’re featuring him or put him in an action to get him to be aggressive, but he’s going to have to balance it himself,” Donovan said. “There’s got to be a flow and a randomness to how he’s playing as he makes decisions.”
Bulls fans have been waiting for Williams’ breakout moment ever since he was drafted with the fourth pick in 2020. In the last year, however, that has drained into frustration as the forward struggles to adjust to his role.
Newly healthy and invigorated by his summer with DeRozan, this season offers a chance for Williams to reintroduce himself.
“I look at every year like a make-or-break year,” Williams said. “I looked at my rookie year that way, my second year that way. This year is the exact same way. At the end of the day, it’s basketball. There’s no need to put any extra pressure on yourself or psych yourself out. Just go play basketball.”