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Analysis: Portland Trail Blazers Sign Mo Williams

Last week the Portland Trail Blazers signed veteran guard Mo Williams. What role will he play? How much impact will he have? How smart of a signing was it?


While I was on vacation last week the Blazers signed Mo Williams with their room exception.  Since that's the hottest topic in the inbox, let's dive in.

Williams was a really nice get at this level of compensation.  The read is simple.  He's a veteran who can score.  Those two qualities alone rank him above anybody Portland brought off the bench last year.

If you have to rely on him for major minutes Williams is going to win and lose games for you depending on the night.  Absent injuries the Blazers won't put that much on his shoulders.  They want somebody to run the offense and provide a scoring threat on the second unit.  Williams is more than capable in that regard.  If he's a little ball-dominant, well, Portland's bench could use some of that.  Bonus: Williams shoots the three well enough to fit in Portland's system.   In fact the Blazers are nearly-seamless in that regard.  No matter who they put in on the perimeter the floor should remain spread.

Williams also replicates Portland's utter lack of defense in the backcourt, sure to be a concern as the season progresses.  Wesley Matthews knows how to "D"-up.  Other than that, the Blazers have nobody under 6'7" who plays even half a lick of defense.  Williams won't change that tune at all.  His work on that end is utterly forgettable. The net effect will put considerable strain on Portland's frontcourt players.  Let's hope they're ready.

C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard will be the players most affected by the coming of Mo.

Lillard now has a proven, capable backup for as many minutes as needed.  That's a critical change.  Last week the Blazers were one slow learning curve away from playing Damian more minutes than anybody else in the league for a second straight year.  That issue is now resolved.

McCollum's situation is more complex.  He's likely lost any meaningful minutes he was going to get at point guard this year.  That may be a good thing based on what we saw in Summer League.  The positive spin is that he now has time to grow into that role instead of being thrust into a critical reserve spot before he's ready.  The other side of the coin: he'll need to show plenty before he can leap past Williams on the depth chart.  That's not likely to happen soon.  Since a large part of McCollum's appeal rests on the combo guard designation, this may mean he's more of a long-term project than an instant solution.  You'll know the season is going well for C.J. if he can pick up time at the point in non-blowout situations.  You'll know it's going poorly if Williams also starts playing reserve off-guard minutes.  It'll be interesting to watch the dance between those two.

Other than that, I'm not sure there was much significance to the signing beyond Williams being one of the best players available at the price.  Between Williams and Dorell Wright he Blazers did really well filling their last cap and exception slots.  Portland spent 10th-12th man dollars for guys who could easily exceed that level of production and importance.  Whatever faults those two players may bring to the court, the Blazers got plenty of utility for their money.

Still, Williams won't turn around the season by himself, especially if he plays limited minutes behind Lillard.  The shine of the solid late signings is dampened somewhat by Portland going the speculative route with the early part of their cap space.  If Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson don't come through (and come through huge in Lopez' case) the smart lower-level pick-ups won't matter as much.  But at least the Blazers have lessened the gamble at point guard while providing scoring punch to their bench.  For a couple million bucks that's a job well done.

--Dave (