Saturday, December 17, 2011
Clippers rally around Mo Williams
By Pedro Moura
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- As of a week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers' Mo Williams was the starting point guard and the No. 3 scoring option on a squad many expected to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Now he's the No. 3 point guard and a sixth-man candidate. That's what happens when your team acquires two All-Stars at your position in Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul in a two-day span and doesn't trade you away in the process.
Even before the Clippers acquired Paul, Williams made it clear at media day on Tuesday that he was unhappy with being moved to the bench. He hasn't spoken to the media since, made unavailable after Saturday's practice.
His new teammates spoke for him.
"It's definitely gonna be tough for Mo," Billups said Saturday after his first official practice with the team. "It's tough for all of us, but Mo in particular. He was the starter here.
"He was the guy who came in here last year and made this team a lot better. And then you bring in two All-Star point guards. It's tough."
Williams, who turns 29 Monday, averaged 15.2 points and 5.6 assists in 22 games for the Clippers last season after being traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deadline deal that sent Baron Davis the opposite way.
The Clippers went 11-11 in those games, a significant improvement on their 21-39 record in the 60 previous games. Paul's acquisition was rumored for some time, so it's likely that didn't overly surprise Williams. But the Billups pickup came in out of the blue and left him grasping for air.
"When you're a starting point guard for a team and you see a team trade for a point guard, or bring a point guard in, it's a shock to you," Williams said on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Billups waiver claim was announced. "I don't care how you take it. I worked this summer, getting prepared for this opportunity to lead this team.
"So, yeah, it was a shock to me."
A shock, sure, but Clippers general manager Neil Olshey and coach Vinny Del Negro have maintained that they don't see it as a slight to Williams, who could still see somewhere in the range of 25-30 minutes per game.
And teammates agree.
"It's not really a slight to him," Billups said. "He's still going to have opportunities to prove that he is an upper-echelon point guard in the league.
"Mo's gonna be fine, man. Mo's gonna have a great year with us."
Billups said he expected Williams to be the "best in the league" at coming off the bench in the backcourt.
Del Negro, who made liberal use of a three-guard lineup in his previous head-coaching stop in Chicago, said he would "absolutely" call the problem at point guard a good problem. With only 66 games to play and the regular season beginning in eight days, having three veteran point guards available is going to help him quite a bit, he said.
"We've got (three) talented guys, character guys and students of the game," Del Negro said. "Now we just have to understand how to put it all together and get guys as comfortable as possible in their roles.
"Having some depth in those positions obviously isn't the worst thing, anytime -- but especially in the short-term season that we have with the way that the schedule's set up."
Del Negro often played Williams, Randy Foye and guard Eric Gordon together last season. Gordon's now a New Orleans Hornet, having been sent over in the Paul trade, but that doesn't change the concept.
It still makes sense to have all three in the game in certain situations, like when points are needed quickly or opposing teams go small.
"The good thing about it is that they can all score as well," superstar forward Blake Griffin said Saturday. "It's always nice to have a problem of who's going to start, which All-Star point guard's going to start."
Paul did not participate in contact drills Saturday, unable to practice officially with the team until all players involved in the deal are cleared with their new teams. The hold-up is center Chris Kaman, who hadn't taken his physical in New Orleans as of noon Saturday, according to a source.
Del Negro said there was a good chance Paul would participate in the team's 5 p.m. practice, giving him just over a week to practice with his new team before the Christmas Day opener.
Pedro Moura is a reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.