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Here's 'Mo' to like about veteran Blazer guard
There's a lot to like about Maurice "Mo" Williams, to my way of thinking. And we're not even talking basketball.
The veteran guard, who made his debut in a Portland uniform in the Trail Blazers' 104-98 preseason loss to Phoenix Wednesday night at the Moda Center, is a fan of the Atlanta Braves, a disciple of Phil Collins' music and a 12-handicap golfer who has already become a member at Tualatin Country Club.
Mo, wife Kesha and their five boys -- aged 14, 8, 7, 5 and eight months -- have settled into their Tualatin home and feel comfortable just two months after he signed a one-year, $2.65-million free-agent contract (player option for a second year) with the Blazers. "Kesha and I love Portland," Williams said. "So do the kids."
Williams, 30, majored in criminal justice during his two years at Alabama.
"I come from a neighborhood with a lot of crime," the Jackson, Miss., native said. "I just wanted to learn the justice system. I don't know where I'd have taken it. I could have been a lawyer, I don't know. I wanted to learn the history. Criminal justice was great. I minored in African-American studies. I enjoyed my curriculum at Alabama."
Williams left Alabama after his sophomore season but was only a second-round selection, taken by Utah with the 47th pick in the 2003 draft. Not many players chosen that late make a roster. A decade later, The 6-1, 195-pound Williams is going strong, carrying averages of 13.8 points and 5.0 assists into his 11th NBA season.
After averaging 12.9 points and 6.2 assists in 46 games with the Jazz last season (he missed 36 games, 32 due to right thumb surgery), Williams began to look for potential suitors. Portland proved the ideal option.
Williams goes back to 2003 with general manager Neil Olshey, when Williams was a client of SFX Sports Group preparing for the draft and Olshey was a young coach assigned to work with him. Williams later spent a season and a half with the Los Angeles Clippers when Olshey had ascended to the club's vice president/basketball operations. And Williams played two seasons for coach Terry Stotts at Milwaukee (2005-07).
"I knew Neil and Terry well," Williams said. "Then you want to go somewhere where you can be a valuable piece, a place that has a chance to win.
"I had the opportunity to be the last (of Portland's free agents) to sign. It was easier for me than for the other guys. We already had a team, and I could just envision myself fitting in. I saw a position where I can really help this team. It was check, check, check. Everything was right."
Blazer management felt the same way about Williams, who three times has averaged more than 17 points for a season, including 2008-09, when he averaged 17.8 as LeBron James' righthand man and made the All-Star Game. Williams' career shooting numbers are excellent: .440 from the field, .386 from 3-point range and .869 at the free-throw line, ranking sixth among current NBA players in the latter category.
The Blazers brought Williams in as both an offensive weapon off the bench but also as a mentor to second-year point guard Damian Lillard, the unanimous 2012-13 rookie of the year.
"Originally when we got him, I envisioned the same type of role as Jason Terry had in Dallas," said Stotts, an assistant coach with the Mavericks for four years prior to taking over in Portland last season. "Mo will play more point guard than Jet did, but he'll be a guy who can come in and score points. He's versatile. He can play off the ball. It helps Damian from an offensive standpoint. I like that he can play with Damian and be the primary ballhandler."
The pairing of the 6-1 Williams and the 6-3 Lillard will be undersized defensively against some opposing backcourt tandems, but Stotts said he won't fret about it.
"There's no question they'll play together every night," he said. "I wouldn't adjust my matchup to who is playing against them and limit their time. They're going to be on the court together, and we'll work around it."
Williams missed some training camp time and the Blazers' exhibition opener against the Clippers with an ankle injury. He looked rusty Wednesday night against Phoenix, making 3 of 10 shots and collecting nine points and seven assists in 26 minutes.
His performance was a mixed bag. He hit a nice floater in the key, took the ball to the well for a left-handed layup and three-point play and aggressively drove and drew a shooting foul on the next possession. He also had five turnovers, dribbling a ball off teammate Joel Freeland's foot and serving up a lob pass far too low for Will Barton.
"I felt better than I expected," Williams said. "We came into the game saying I'd play 12 minutes. I played (26) and I felt pretty good. I'm ahead of where I thought I'd be physically. All the extra work has paid off."
Williams spent much of his time on the court alongside Lillard, who led the Blazers with 19 points in 25 minutes.
"That's the first time we've played together, practice included," Williams said. "We always play against each other in practice. Coach (Stotts) wanted to get us some time together tonight. The more we play together, the better we'll get. We're going to be very effective on the offensive end, but we'll have to work together and develop some chemistry and use our quickness at the defensive end.
"I knew from the first day I got here (Lillard) was special. I'm just out there trying to enhance him with my game, take pressure off him."
Lillard has felt it already.
"Mo's been really helpful," he said. "He knows what it takes to win. He's been an all-star. There are a lot of things I can learn from him about being a leader at point guard, about what needs to happen to win games. Having him around will help me a lot."
Even at 30, Williams uses his speed to full advantage.
"He's extremely fast," Lillard said. "It's surprising how fast he can up the floor with the ball in his hands. He runs the floor at a dead sprint. He handles the ball, makes plays real well, and he's a shotmaker. A guy who can move like he can and shoot the ball and play physical like Mo is ahead of a lot of other 30-year-olds."
That's what the Blazers are counting on as they bid for a playoff run.
"I'm excited about the opportunity here," Williams said. "I could be very valuable to this team. My goal is to stay healthy and make sure I'm available every game."
NOTES: Goran Dragic came off the bench to score 19 points for Phoenix, which led most of the way and was on top 89-70 early in the fourth quarter before Portland made a late run. LaMarcus Aldridge made his exhibition debut for Portland, collecting 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Thomas Robinson was ejected for throwing an elbow at Suns' forward Marcin Gortat in the second quarter. Robinson had seven points and six rebounds in 13 minutes before getting the boot. Allen Crabbe, Barton, Freeland and Meyers Leonard all had productive games off the bench for the Blazers. Crabbe scored 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Barton was 5 for 6 from the field, including 2 for 2 from 3-point range, en route to a 13-point game. Freeland (nine points, five rebounds) and Leonard (eight points, six boards) had solid games inside for the losers. the Blazers (0-2) face Utah Friday night at Boise.