Thirty-year-old point guard Mo Williams once considered retiring from the NBA because of LeBron James. They spent two seasons together with the Cavaliers, and when LeBron moved on from Cleveland, Williams thought about moving on altogether—at an unthinkably early age.
So wouldn't you know Williams is entertaining the possibility of once again joining forces with James, even if it means doing so at a steep discount.
He's been linked to the Miami Heat by HOOPSWORLD's Steve Kyler and the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, and by anyone who's imagined how far Williams would go toward solving one of the club's lone remaining (comparative) weaknesses—the point-guard position. Because of the organization's limited cap flexibility, Williams is still exploring his options, surely hoping for a situation in which winning and money aren't mutually exclusive.
One such situation may already be in the offing according to Memphis radio host Chris Vernon.
Before writing the Memphis Grizzlies off as a vastly inferior choice, let's think this through from Williams' perspective. There may be more than blues and BBQ awaiting him.
The Green Light
The Grizzlies need Williams, and they need him to shoot. Even before the rotation lost small forward Rudy Gay last season, it was in desperate need of more long-range firepower. A career 39-percent three-point shooter, Williams is an efficient—and willing—gunner.
Last season, the Grizzlies ranked No. 24 in three-point accuracy and dead-last in three-point attempts. They took 15.4 fewer threes per game than the league-leading New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, highlighting just how heavily head coach Lionel Hollins relied on his bread-and-butter big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (who had a combined 40.1 usage rate according to ESPN.com).
Despite an impressive run to the Western Conference Finals, Memphis' limited range was exposed in a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. The Grizzlies averaged fewer than 88 points in the series.
Having lost marksman Wayne Ellington to the Dallas Mavericks via free agency, Memphis could use the extra help. Williams' ability to pull up off the dribble and create space for his own shots makes him an especially valuable shooter for a half-court offense that sometimes flirts with sluggishness.
A Clear Role
Though five-year veteran Jerryd Bayless is ostensibly penciled into Memphis' sixth-man role, Williams would instantly become the rotation's best option to spark the second unit. He's a better shooter, and he's a far more polished distributor.
That second part is important. While it's nice having shoot-first spark plugs on the bench, it's also nice to have someone who can pass them the ball. Williams has averaged five assists for his career, and as many as 7.1 in 2010-11. More importantly, he's been a starting point guard in this league. He's had to run an NBA offense.
You can't say the same for Bayless, and you certainly can't say the same for second-year guard Tony Wroten Jr.
Williams' playmaking ability could help Mike Conley even more than it helps the bench. Memphis could sometimes deploy a small backcourt in which Conley and Williams play off of one another. Whereas starting shooting guard Tony Allen brings a more defensive orientation to the Grizzlies' backcourt, Williams would allow coach David Joerger a more potent scoring tandem.
That's good for Conley, a fine spot up shooter in his own right. Without someone like Williams to get him the rock, Conley's often forced to shoot off the dribble and out of pick-and-rolls. For a shooter who likes to get his feet set, those pull-up jumpers aren't ideal.
This lineup could become a defensive liability, but Mike Conley's nearly 6'6" wingspan gives him a fighting chance against most shooting guards—and if any team defense can make up for a small backcourt, it's Memphis'.
Miami's backcourt situation isn't so simple. In terms of pecking order, Williams figures to fall somewhere between Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen on the one hand and Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole on the other. He could start ahead of Chalmers or play similarly substantial minutes as a sixth man.
Williams would also be playing with elite playmakers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The difference is that he'll be involved in fewer of those plays than he would in Memphis, being one of many scoring options Miami's accumulated during the Big Three Era.
If its a sense of importance Williams wants, Memphis is a no-brainer.
Money isn't everything, but nor is it inconsequential to a player who won't be signing many more contracts. Because Memphis has yet to announce the terms of Mike Miller's deal (per Yahoo! Sports' Eric Freeman), it's not entirely clear how much money the organization has available to offer Williams. That said, it's probably safe to assume he's taking up no more than $2 million of the team's $5.15 million mid-level exception.
The Miami Heat still have the taxpayer's mid-level exception at their disposal, meaning they could give Williams a deal starting at $3.18 million—potentially enough to compete with whatever Memphis offers.
Whether Miami is willing to put that on the table is another question altogether. That $3.18 million may sound like pennies in NBA terms, but it would cost the Heat an additional $10 million in luxury taxes. On the one hand, the franchise would seemingly spare no expense pursuing a third consecutive title.
If expensive solutions were the only ones available, anyway. Taking a more patient approach, Pat Riley could very well secure a player of Williams' caliber while also shipping some salary out via trade. As the trade deadline nears and lost playoff causes start stripping their rosters, teams like Miami usually stand to benefit. If Riley prefers the wait-and-see approach, he may beg Williams to sign on the cheap end of cheap.
Of course, if Memphis isn't using any of its mid-level exception on Miller, it could offer Williams the full $5.15 million, easily outbidding Miami. In that case—and depending on the length of the offer—this may be a clear cut financial decision.
To whatever extent it's a financial decision, anyway.
Is There a Case for Miami?
Of course. And it's an obvious one. No team has better positioned itself to win it all in 2014, and no team has proven itself more able to do so. The Grizzlies are a perennial dark-horse contender, but they'll be just as much of one this season as they've been in the last two.
With or without Mo Williams.
All the more so if the Oklahoma City Thunder are healthy or the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are as improved as they're cracked up to be. Winning a title with the Grizzlies would be more rewarding than winning one with Miami, but precisely because it's far less likely.
It's hard to turn down that kind of chance at a title, but it's not that simple. Memphis is an opportunity to be a core, valued ingredient—more than just the latest discounted ring-chaser. Williams would be a leader in the Grizzlies' locker room and a veteran partner for Mike Conley. He'd be part of the team's identity, key to whatever it goes on to accomplish.
Even if—as it's almost certain to be—it's less than what the Heat accomplish.