(right) averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists for the Jazz
last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Blazers have agreed to sign free-agent guard Mo Williams to a two-year, $5.6 million contract, according to multiple reports.
Yahoo! Sports and CBSSports.com reported that the deal includes a player option in the second season. Portland will add Williams using its room mid-level exception, which has a starting salary of $2.7 million.
Williams, 30, one of the biggest names remaining on the market, averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists in 46 games (all starts) for the Jazz last season. He missed two months of the season because of thumb surgery.
Utah acquired Williams from the Clippers in a four-team trade in June 2012. The Jazz have let veterans Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Williams leave as free agents this summer, opening up minutes for youngsters Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and 2013 lottery pick Trey Burke, who will step into Williams' role.
Williams has served as a starting point guard for most of his 10-year career, which has included stops with the Bucks and Cavaliers. But he will slide into Portland's backcourt rotation as a third guard behind incumbent starters Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. He did well in a similar role with the Clippers during the 2011-12 season, averaging 13.2 points and shooting 38.9 percent from three-point range while playing behind All-Star Chris Paul.
Williams' addition helps address at least two roster problems for the Blazers. First and foremost, he should be able to take significant pressure off of Lillard, who led the league in minutes during his Rookie of the Year season. For months, Portland has searched for an adequate backup and complement to Lillard, hoping to reduce not only his heavy workload but also his ball-handling responsibilities. The Blazers traded for Eric Maynor, drafted CJ McCollum and signed Williams' backup in Utah, Earl Watson, since February's trade deadline, but here they have a legitimate, established guard whose presence will allow Lillard to move off the ball for meaningful stretches. With Maynor already having departed for the Wizards and the 34-year-old Watson nearing retirement age, Williams' experience and ability to run an offense will be quite helpful.
Second, Williams' arrival will allow McCollum, the No. 10 pick, to play his natural two-guard position. McCollum's Las Vegas Summer League play confirmed pre-draft evaluations that suggested he was far more advanced as a shot creator and scorer than he was as an offense-initiator and ball-handler. The Lehigh product was among the leading scorers in Vegas, but he struggled to handle traps and pressure defense or generate clean looks for his teammates. As a third guard, McCollum was likely going to be in over his head on many nights this season. As a fourth guard capable of focusing on what he does best, he should be much more comfortable.
The fit and price are both very good. The Blazers, who finished fourth in three-pointers attempted last season, have made it clear that they plan to hoist even more this season, adding McCollum and Dorell Wright to a chuck-heavy mix that already included Lillard, Matthews and Nicolas Batum. Williams, a career 38.6 percent three-point shooter who has never been shy about pulling the trigger, should be right at home in coach Terry Stotts' free-wheeling environment.
As for the contract, Williams' deal offers both value and flexibility, as he will earn less than $3 million next season while being one of the league's better backup point guards. Blazers general manager Neil Olshey added a number of players this offseason -- including Wright, Watson, center Robin Lopez and power forward Thomas Robinson -- but none have contracts with guaranteed money past the 2014-15 season. Williams' deal tucks into that mix, too, which is helpful as trade rumors swirl around All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who can become a free agent in July 2015.
The Blazers are keen on returning to the postseason after a two-year absence, and Williams completes a backcourt and wing rotation that should be good enough to make a strong run at one of the final two playoff seeds. Portland's postseason hopes will now likely hinge on how well its new interior players fare. Surely Williams is hoping that a strong individual year for a playoff team will entice more interest next summer, when he will be able to opt out.