It's been a rough 2016 for Mo Williams.
Ever since the calendar flipped to the new year, Williams hasn't been playing much for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's appeared in only five games, receiving no more than eight minutes of playing time in any of those contests. In between, Williams has missed time due to a family death, and it came out that he's been playing with a partially torn ligament in his right thumb. Williams is very obviously frustrated with his lack of playing time, and while head coach Tyronn Lue has been helping Williams manage his emotions regarding his status with the team, it has seemed clear Mo might want out of Cleveland.
Williams's benching coincided with the return of Kyrie Irving, and there's reason to argue that Williams has a place on this team because of Kyrie Irving's assumed fragility. After all, Kyrie has missed a lot of time in his career with various injuries, and the Cavs have always struggled with replacing him, whether it be with Donald Sloan or A.J. Price or an overmatched Matthew Dellavedova in the Finals. Mo has been around the league, and he did a decent job when Kyrie was out early in the year, so it makes sense to want to keep Mo as an insurance policy.
But Williams getting squeezed out of the rotation hasn't just been due to Irving's return. Mo had a very good start to the season, shooting 53.1 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three to average 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in the month of November. But when December 1st came, Mo's slip started. He shot 39.7 percent from the field in December, and his assist numbers started to drop, too. He finished December with a net rating of -18.0 points/100 possessions, and things came to a head on Christmas, where he was benched unexpectedly by David Blatt in the Golden State Warriors loss and then contributed to the 29-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers with a 0-6 stinkbomb. Since then, he's barely played, and when he does he's shooting a ghastly 26.3 percent from the field, headlined by a 1-7 performance in six minutes of garbage time in a win over the Brooklyn Nets.
The decline of Mo since December 1st doesn't paint the picture of simple regression because of Kyrie joining the team. Mo got moved down to the bench because of Irving, but the shift to the end of the bench has likely come more because of his play than anything else. Williams hasn't just been unnecessary because of Irving and Delly's improvement; he's been bad, to the point that I don't trust that he can return to regular minutes in a moment of need and make a positive impact.
The other issue with counting on Mo as the insurance policy is that the Cavs have a much better option already in place. Matthew Dellavedova has proven he can handle the load of starter's minutes, and he arguably played even better than Mo did at his best with Kyrie out, averaging 9.9 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 46.4 percent from the field in his eleven starts this season. Delly's worlds better defensively than Williams, and his development as a distributor and floor spacer has made him a valuable option to play in lineups with the rest of the starters, and I think you can easily rely on Delly to take on most of Kyrie's minutes at the point, and then play more of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith at the two to compensate for Delly's off-ball minutes.
That's a lot to put on Dellavedova, yes, but it's by no means a guarantee that Kyrie will get injured. Assuming that Kyrie can make it through the season without getting hurt again may be a risk, but it's likely not as great of a risk as people think, given that Kyrie's injury history lacks recurrent issues such as a stress fracture or chronic back issues that have a more documented history of future injury recurrence than Kyrie's history of fractures and muscle strains.
There are options around the league for the Cavs to pursue if Mo does want out as well, and having an extra roster spot and trade exception creates mobility for the Cavs to grab another reserve point guard if they so choose. If the Cavs wanted, they could easily trade Mo for something as simple as a 2nd-round pick or international draft rights, and then pursue another guard with their trade exception. They could also look to mine the D-League for guys on 10-day contracts if they feel comfortable relying primarily on Delly. This year's point guard crop in the D-League is pretty strong, and given how Mo has played recently, maybe this is an easy alternative. The Cavs could call up guys like Quinn Cook or Jorge Gutierrez from the Canton Charge, and guys in the general D-League pool, like Xavier Munford and Elliott Williams, are both players who would provide quirky skill sets the Cavs could attempt to weave in to the end of the bench.
If Mo Williams wants out of Cleveland, the Cavs moving him could be mutually beneficial for both sides. Williams would be able to get playing time somewhere, and the Cavs could explore other options that would provide potential for improvement over Williams's struggles of the past two months. The Cavs could decide to keep Williams, which would make sense for the Kyrie insurance reason. But given his play and the bounty of alternatives available, the Cavs moving Williams may be a good option as we approach the trade deadline.