After spending a majority of the offseason wondering if Mo Williams would return for the 2016-17 season, the Cavaliers got an answer on September 22nd: he’d be back. Their somewhat unsettled backup point guard situation looked like it’d be handled by a combination of the veteran Williams, the rookie Kay Felder, and some conglomeration of Jordan McRae and Iman Shumpert. (There’s also that LeBron guy, who can play de facto point in some bench units.) They’d still miss the departed Matthew Dellavedova, but the group that remained possessed a solid mix of experience and youth.
That took an abrupt turn a week ago, on Media Day, when David Griffin unexpectedly announced Mo had retired. Suddenly, the Cavs’ point guard depth looked a little hazy again. Apparently, his agent had called just hours prior to the start of camp to inform the team of the news. Mo had reportedly leaned toward retirement over the summer, but announced he’d return, he said, out of concern over the team’s depth at his position:
"I just thought about repeating, thought about another championship and I didn't want to put the Cavs in a situation where [they didn't have a] guy [who] could come in and play five to 10 minutes that could help them win and be a difference.”
In many ways, that’s Mo in a nutshell. Loyal, proud, perhaps with an inflated opinion of his importance to the team, all wrapped up in what became a clunky exit from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Despite the odd ending, Mo had a successful NBA career, especially once you consider his humble beginnings as the 47th overall pick of the 2003 Draft. He spent one year in Utah under Jerry Sloan before heading to Milwaukee as a restricted free agent. There he blossomed into an excellent scoring guard, averaging 16 points on 54% True Shooting from 2005-06 through 2007-08. He’s probably best remembered (especially by those visiting this site) as a Cavalier, where he spent 2008-09 (his lone All-Star season) through part of 2010-11 before being shipped to the Clippers. (I wonder what the details of that trade were. Oh... right.)
Thus began the second phase of his career, as he shifted from starting to being a journeyman backup or 6th Man. He spent another year in Los Angeles backing up Chris Paul, a year in Portland backing up Damian Lillard, and a year carrying more responsibility than he probably should have been tasked with in Minnesota and Charlotte.
Finally, he came back “home” to Cleveland. His season with the Cavs was a bit uneven, as he dealt with chronic knee pain and losing his spot in the rotation. He averaged 8 points and 2 assists per game on 53% True Shooting in 41 regular season games, and wasn’t much of a factor in the playoffs, appearing in just 13 of Cleveland’s 21 postseason games, mostly in mop-up duty.
Although he wasn’t as impactful as he, the team, or fans probably hoped he’d be during his second stint with the Cavs, it was nice to see his career come full circle with a championship ring. He sought stability throughout his career, but could never seem to hold onto it. He shunned Miami to sign a lucrative extension with Milwaukee in the summer of 2007 (the year before he was dealt to Cleveland), saying that he wanted to become a team leader and put down roots with the Bucks. While he was almost certainly happy in Cleveland the first time around, he took LeBron’s departure much harder than most, admitting that he considered retirement following The Decision, and famously refusing to shake LeBron’s hand in their first on-court meeting afterward. His two year deal to return to the Cavs was well below market value, but again, it’s likely he gave up money in exchange for some security. This is a guy who wound up playing 9 stints for 7 franchises and 12 head coaches over his 13 year career.
Prior to Mo’s return, he and LeBron cleared the air, which was clearly important to both guys. It was cool to see Mo win with LeBron, since the arc of his career bent to his gravity. He was sent packing from Milwaukee to play with him, and sent away after he left and the Cavs wanted to rebuild.
He’s as authentic as they come, as anyone who follows him on social media can attest. In an age when players have teams of people to handle Instagram and Twitter for them, it was apparent that Mo ran those himself, sometimes painfully so. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, he’s sort of like your corny uncle, if your corny uncle had Instagram and played in the NBA. The best example is this post, about how he sleeps with Spalding, because “#SheAintNeverLetMeDown.” I digress.)
Mo’s career, when examined in the big picture, was fine, but unremarkable. He won’t end up in Springfield, is what I’m saying. But if you’re interested in the people that make this sport great, and all the little ways careers can take unexpected turns, and authentic guys who get to see everything come full circle, it’s easy to appreciate Mo for exactly what he was.