Mo Williams(notes) is 27, healthy and has three years and $26 million remaining on his Cleveland Cavaliers contract. But none of that mattered much to him this summer after he watched LeBron James(notes) leave the Cavs to join the Miami Heat. Williams said he was so depressed by James’ exit that he considered walking away from the NBA.
“That’s how bad it got,” Williams said. “I contemplated it. I really sat down and envisioned life after basketball. …I really saw myself not playing.
“It just didn’t make sense to me. …It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Williams played alongside James the past two seasons, serving as the Cavs’ starting point guard and second-leading scorer as they finished with the NBA’s best record two years in a row. Cleveland’s regular-season success, however, didn’t translate to the playoffs, where the Cavs fell short of reaching the NBA Finals both times. Still, Williams felt comfortable in his role next to James. He was named to the All-Star team in 2009 and remained hopeful that, together, they could deliver a championship to Cleveland in the 2010-11 season.
Those hopes all but disappeared on July 8 when James announced he was leaving. By the time of James’ televised special, Williams had heard from enough people around James to know his days of playing next to the two-time reigning MVP were over – even if Williams didn’t want to admit it.
“As anyone tied to the Cavs, you want to be in denial,” Williams said. “…You never want to say, ‘Yeah, OK, he’s gone.’ ”
Williams didn’t hide his disappointment, even tweeting in the hours after the announcement that he hoped James would change his mind. Williams also publicly expressed his regret for how James broke the hearts of Clevelanders and for the earlier firing of coach Mike Brown, who had lost James’ support.
“I had to get it off my chest,” he said.
Williams said he and James remain friends, but he’s also tried to use the past two months to move on.
“You get back here to Cleveland, get around the new coaching staff, start a few workouts, get around the young guys and basically accept the fact that we are not what we once were,” he said. “We don’t have the No. 23 jersey hanging in the locker before every game now.”
James wasn’t the only key figure in the organization to leave in the offseason. Brown was fired and eventually replaced by Byron Scott. Former general manager Danny Ferry parted ways with the franchise, and his assistant, Chris Grant, was named the new GM. Assistant GM Lance Blanks left to help run the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs didn’t make any headline moves, acquiring role players in guard Ramon Sessions(notes) and center Ryan Hollins(notes), while trying to preserve future roster flexibility. Veteran forward Antawn Jamison(notes) is still on the roster, but both he and Williams could eventually find themselves on the trade block as the Cavs continue to rebuild.
“This summer was very, very stressful for me,” Williams said. “I really lost a lot of love for the game this summer.
“You play this game for one reason. You play to win games and win championships. I couldn’t understand why a lot of things were happening to our organization, to a really good basketball team. I couldn’t really understand it. And when you don’t understand things, it can really stress you out.”
Williams is slowly adapting to the new Cavaliers, who, along with their new coaching staff, will have a new offense that will be heavy on pick-and-rolls. Scott might play Williams at shooting guard with Sessions or Daniel Gibson(notes) running the point. In addition to being relied upon to score more, Williams inherits additional leadership responsibility with James and veteran center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) gone.
“It’s crazy because ever since [James left], everybody I see, they approach me and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be able to play your game now,’ ” Williams said. “ ‘You are going to be able to show everybody what you got,’ or ‘you’re going to be able to do this.’ I was happy with my role. We were winning basketball games. I was coming home every night a winner.
“Who can’t love that? That is what playing a role on a team is all about. …Everybody can’t be the star. I was perfectly comfortable being that piece.”
How long will it take for Williams to grow comfortable with his new role? Not even he knows. But after two months, he also understands it doesn’t make much sense to sit around pining for his departed teammate.
“We just got to go to work, man,” Williams said. “…At the end of the day we still have to move forward because the only people who feel sorry for us are the ones who have the Cavs uniform on and whoever is in the stands rooting for the Cavs. That’s it. Everybody else could care less.”