Blazers land free agent Mo Williams

Veteran point guard provides a backup for Damian Lillard

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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Since the start of the NBA free-agency period, the Portland Trail Blazers and veteran point guard Mo Williams have shared mutual interest.

Even as the team refined its roster through trades and other signings, general manager Neil Olshey and Williams' agent Mark Bartelstein, never broke communication.

Finally on Wednesday -- more than a month into free agency -- the constant conversion led to Williams landing in Portland.

Williams, a former All-Star who will be entering his 11th season in the NBA, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Blazers. The deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports and confirmed by Bartelstein, will be worth $5.6 million that includes a player option in the second season.

Though Williams -- who last played in Utah and averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists -- needed time this summer to test the market, Bartelstein said that the Blazers have been an option since July 1.

"We've had long, long conversations over the last month and a half," Bartelstein said during a phone interview with The Columbian. "Free agency is a process -- it can be an exhausting process."

"Neil did a great job of staying in touch."

With the 30-year-old Williams now in the fold, the Blazers have reached the limit of 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster. Even more, the team has plucked from the free-agency pile a proven NBA point guard who can back up starter Damian Lillard.

Williams, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, has balanced a skillful touch from long distance with a command of the floor as he has averaged at least four assists per game during the seasons in which he started at point guard.

As a career 38.6-percent 3-point shooter, Williams will fit into Portland's up-tempo pace. The Blazers already know what Williams can provide -- last season, his season-best mark of six made 3-pointers came against the Blazers on April 1. But beyond recognizing Williams as an opponent, several members of team personnel share previous connections.

During most of the 2006-2007 season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Williams played under Terry Stotts and put up 17.1 points, 6.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds. In Cleveland, Williams became an All-Star in 2009 while starting alongside LeBron James. Even when his superstar teammate jettisoned Cleveland for South Beach, Williams continued to produce fine numbers for a wallowing franchise -- until a trade sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers where Olshey worked as the team's Vice President of Basketball Operations.

"There's a lot of comfort, there's a lot of trust," Bartelstein said about Williams' familiarity with Stotts and Olshey, "and I think that makes for a great marriage."

Williams now bolsters a backcourt rotation that includes Lillard, Wesley Matthews, CJ McCollum and Earl Watson. Although Williams has played the majority of his career as a starter, he can also thrive in a secondary role as he did with the Clippers during the 2010-2011 season.

While backing up Chris Paul, Williams sparked the bench as the Clippers' best 3-point shooter (38.9 percent) who averaged 16.8 points per game.

"I think there is no question, (the Blazers are) bringing him there to have a very significant role on the team," Bartelstein said. "One thing about Mo, he's very flexible. He'll let the coach decide and… whatever the role is, he'll embrace it."

As the news began to spread on Wednesday afternoon, Williams tweeted to his followers: "Portland here I come!!!!!!"

Bartelstein expected Williams to be in Portland by Thursday morning to sign the contract.