Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Updated: August 20, 10:01 AM ET
Magic sign point guard Williams
By Marc Stein
After a year out of the game to spend more time with his family, Jason Williams will be making his NBA comeback as close to his family as possible.
The veteran point guard on Wednesday signed a one-year deal with the Orlando Magic believed to be worth the league's veteran minimum of $1.3 million, choosing the opportunity to play behind Jameer Nelson with a championship contender over a return to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"You couldn't paint a better picture," Williams said in a phone interview.
Williams signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in August 2008 but walked away from the contract before ever playing a game for the Clippers, partly because of complications his wife faced when pregnant with their third child. The 33-year-old wound up sitting out the entire 2008-09 season when his February attempt to be reinstated -- which requires unanimous approval from the league's 30 teams to avoid a mandatory one-year waiting period -- was voted down by 24 teams to six.
The Clippers held exclusive negotiating rights with Williams through July 24 but ultimately elected to relinquish them. The New York Knicks then inherited those exclusive negotiating rights by claiming him off waivers, but Williams soon became an unrestricted free agent when the Knicks passed on him. That led to immediate interest from the Grizzlies and the Magic.
Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has long maintained a deep fondness for Williams and urged him to come back to the team he spent four seasons with from 2001-05. Yet the chance to stay in Orlando -- having maintained a residence in the nearby community of Isleworth for nearly a decade -- was too attractive to the 10-year vet.
"We're moving forward," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "I think Jason was serious about us. I just don't think he wanted to move his family. He gets to stay at home and contend for a championship."
Said Magic general manager Otis Smith: "Jason provides depth and leadership to our backcourt. He is a veteran point guard that knows what it takes to help us reach our ultimate goal."
Williams told ESPN.com that he feels "rejuvenated" physically from the year away and grateful to be making his return to the game in Florida after helping the Miami Heat win a championship in 2005-06 in a season that began with Orlando's Stan Van Gundy as his head coach.
In 10 seasons with Sacramento, Memphis and Miami, Williams has averaged 11.4 points and 6.3 assists, gradually delivering steadiness on a consistent basis as he got older after breaking in with a flashy but risky floor game that earned him the nickname of "White Chocolate."
Asked to reflect on his career to date, factoring in the highs in Miami and his status as an instant darling in Sacramento as well as his multiple suspensions in college and occasional controversies in the NBA, Williams said: "Let me tell you this: If I could go all the way back [to the beginning], I wouldn't do a damn thing different. I know I messed up here and there along the way, but those things I didn't do right helped me become the person I am now."
Williams is merely the latest new arrival in an active offseason for the reigning Eastern Conference champions, with Smith clearly unafraid to tinker with the supporting cast around his All-Star trio of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Nelson.
Since reaching the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history, Orlando has traded for former All-Star swingman Vince Carter, signed free-agent forward Brandon Bass, matched a five-year, $34 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Marcin Gortat and added Matt Barnes, Williams and Ryan Anderson (acquired in the Carter trade) in place of the exiting Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Tony Battie and Rafer Alston.
Marc Stein is senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.