Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: December 30, 2:18 PM ET
A note of encouragement for Mo Williams
By Kevin Arnovitz
Special to ESPNLA.com
Greetings from the observation deck. We've been sizing up your role with the Clippers, and we feel your pain. This can't be easy on you.
You came into this season having started 339 of your previous 342 games, and now you find yourself a backup to Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, averaging a mere 25 minutes per game.
As if the demotion wasn't sufficiently demoralizing, it comes despite the fact that you've done everything that could've been asked of you -- and more -- since arriving in the Baron Davis trade 10 months ago.
When the Clippers requested that you waive your opt-out clause for the 2012-13 season, you happily obliged. It was a strong vote of confidence from the organization that it was vested in you going forward, and in exchange for that pledge of loyalty, you gladly honored the request.
The Clippers played well after your arrival. In your 22 games -- every one of them as a starter -- the Clippers finished 11-11, not bad for a team that went 32-50 on the season. You posted a true shooting percentage of 55.6 percent.
During the lockout, you worked your tuchus off and lost 20 pounds. Nobody came into training camp a few weeks ago in better shape than you (well, there's Blake Griffin, but for the sake of this conversation, we're talking about terrestrial beings). During the lockout, you organized minicamps and workouts for your teammates, and took the team's young guys under your wing.
A few years back, you bought a house in San Diego, and now your solidified role with the Clippers would allow you to fully settle in. Everything was falling into place.
Then, in a span of three days, the Clippers acquired not one, but two Hall of Fame point guards. In the time it takes to drive a U-Haul from Cleveland to Playa Vista, Calif., you dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 on the depth chart.
So here you are, playing with the Clippers' white jersey squad alongside the bench guys after a lifetime of starting and after being a model teammate throughout your career. It's a shammockery! All the while, you've been classy enough to keep these gripes to yourself.
You have every right to feel jilted, but as the consummate professional, you're accustomed to listening to sound strategic advice, and we hope you'll take this to heart.
Let's start with the two biggest mitigating circumstances -- Paul and Billups. A demotion is a demotion, and it's not unreasonable for you to feel as if the Clippers' need to go out and get these guys is some sort of referendum on your value. But can you really fault your team for corralling the best point guard in the NBA and picking up the savviest vet in the league for pocket change?
Ambitious teams like the Clippers of today are always going to produce a little collateral damage while upgrading their rosters. Nobody wants to be the guy taking the hit, but in the process of adding premier talent, certain dynamics are going to change. The third scoring option might fall to No. 5 or 6 on that list. A starter might have to accept a reserve role.
These are the costs of radical improvement and the aggressive project Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey is engaged in right now. As a former member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, you understand this as well as anyone. In trying to build a championship squad around LeBron James, the Cavs nibbled around the edges. They added veterans on their last legs such as Shaquille O'Neal or one-way players such as Antawn Jamison.
The Clippers aren't having any of that. They're not interested in marginal growth, which is why they brought in the best. And now you have a chance to be a part of another quest for a championship. Admittedly, your role on this journey has diminished a little. But ask yourself this: Would you rather be the starter on a team aiming for the No. 7 seed or a key -- albeit lesser -- contributor on a team chasing the Larry O'Brien trophy?
Let's talk about that role for a bit, because it's not as if you're being put out to pasture. Peruse the list of teams that have won titles, and virtually every single one of them has featured an assassin off the bench. If you can get a hold of Vinnie Johnson, whose retired No. 15 jersey hangs from the rafters in Auburn Hills, ask him about his time playing behind Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. He started in only 33 of the 164 regular-season games he played during the Pistons' back-to-back championship run, averaging about 25 minutes per game.
Jason Terry didn't suffer any lack of notoriety as he shot the Dallas Mavericks to an upset Finals victory of the Miami Heat this past spring. An entire mythology has been constructed around "Big Shot Bob" -- Mr. Robert Horry -- a seven-time NBA champion whose biggest moments are now part of the NBA's canon. If your legacy follows the trajectory of Steve Kerr, you'll be a lucky man. And how about Downtown Freddie Brown, who was dubbed "instant offense" by coach Lenny Wilkens and won a ring as Seattle's sharpshooter off the bench.
There's an opportunity for something special in ClipperLand, and you have a chance to be the ultimate microwave. As a mature veteran, you should be asking yourself, "What does this team need from me?" You're not alone here. Paul, Billups, Caron Butler -- even Griffin -- will go through similar self-examinations. Everyone will sacrifice.
Judging from your history in this league as a consummate professional, you likely appreciate this. And once you come to terms with your new reality, your team will be stronger.
|Every great team has had a key player on the bench, and Mo Williams could be that guy for the Clippers.|
Kevin Arnovitz covers the NBA for ESPN.com and is the editor of the TrueHoop Network.