26 June 2007

The Orlando Magic Free-Agency Countdown, Part Two: Mo Williams

As the July 1 start of NBA's free-agency period comes closer, 3QC is taking a look at the free agents who may be able to help the Magic the most by counting down from the 5th-best option to the best option. Today's post concerns the player who should be the Magic's fourth resort: Mo Williams.

"Mo who?!"

That's the reaction most people have whenever Mo Williams' name comes up. Playing for the small-market Milwaukee Bucks can damage one's name recognition. Don't let his relative anonymity fool you, though: Mo Williams is a point guard who is capable of bringing stability to the Magic's backcourt.

The Milwaukee Bucks' Mo Williams looks to pass the ball to teammate Dan Gadzuric against the Indiana Pacers. Though he's far from a household name, Williams possesses the skills necessary to take the Magic to the next level.
Photo by the Associated Press

By no means is Williams a superstar, and that has its advantages. He won't command a maximum salary; in fact, the New York Daily News reports Williams is asking for $9 M a year, which is a bargain. The Magic would not have to clear much cap space, if any, to sign Williams and retain Darko Milicic, another one of the team's priorities. Williams also won't face very high expectations in Orlando if he chooses to come here. The same can't be said about any of the other top free agents, who will be under intense scrutiny to succeed.

But there's a major downside to not signing a household name in free agency: Mo Williams will not put fans in the seats of the Orlando Arena, not by a longshot. Ultimately, the NBA is in the entertainment industry. Like everything else, it all comes down to the bottom line. Would the Magic invest $9 M a year in a free agent who would not make the big splash that another, higher-priced free agent would? I don't know the team's ownership well enough to tell either way, but the fact that it's even a question has to raise concerns.

Questions about marketability aside, Mo Williams is a solid player. He averaged 17.3 points per game last season, which would have been good for second on the Magic last season. Better yet, he distributes the ball well, averaging 6.1 assists per game. There is a concern about his passing, though: he also averaged 2.97 turnovers a game last season, which is high. The Magic were second-to-last in the league in turnovers last season and ball control is certainly one of Stan Van Gundy's higher priorities heading into 2007/2008. Perhaps Williams' high .845 career free-throw percentage balances out his turnovers. The Magic ranked 28th out of 30 teams in free-throw percentage in 2006/2007, and having a point guard who can "earn it at the line" would increase that woeful percentage.

There's one last problem when it comes to signing Mo Williams, and it has to do with confidence. Bringing in a free-agent starting point guard means benching current starter Jameer Nelson for sure. Jameer struggled in his third year as a pro, his second as a starter, and the Magic aren't sure if they're going to give him a big contract extension like the one teammate Dwight Howard will sign in the coming weeks. Jameer is essentially in a contract year now, and the Magic should want him to have enough opportunities to earn that contract. Replacing Jameer in the starting lineup with an All-Star is one thing; replacing him with a talented unknown is quite another. Essentially, the Magic need to avoid burning any bridges with Jameer, and signing Mo Williams may complicate things.

The Magic's Jameer Nelson, shown here near the end of a playoff loss to the Detroit Pistons, may have his confidence shaken if the Magic sign Mo Williams.

Photo by Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel

The whole thing may be moot, though. Yahoo! Sports cites an item in the Journal Times that says the Memphis Grizzlies are interested in Williams and may make a play for him on draft night. The real interesting part, though, is what league sources are saying about the Magic's interest:
The Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, and Charlotte Bobcats will also have salary cap room to pursue Williams, but officials from each of those aforementioned teams said it wasn't likely they'd do so.
So Mo Williams may never wear a Magic uniform, and that may be for the best. However, his reasonable salary and solid skills would make him a welcome addition to a team in need of backcourt consistency.

Yesterday: Part One in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Vince Carter.
Tomorrow: Part Three in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown.

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