Williams also has a past with Cleveland. He played with the Cavs from 2008-11, and LeBron’s 2010 departure for the Heat devastated him so much, he said he considered retiring.
“I don’t really look in the past,” Williams said.
Nor does he look to the future.
“I just take it one day at a time,” said Williams, who, if he had a desire to discuss his career arc after Cleveland’s loss to the Pistons on Tuesday, did a great job hiding it.
That was the Cavaliers’ second straight loss, dropping them to 8-3 and creating a minor panic for such a hyped team.
But imagine where they’d be without Williams, who has started at point guard for an injured Kyrie Irving. Williams is averaging 15.5 points on 47.7% shooting with 5.3 assists per game. And 8-3 looks great relative to the 1-6 record Cleveland posted without Irving last season.
“Mo’s given us everything we could ask for,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.
What a difference a few years make.
During LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the Cavs faced frequent questions about their inability to get LeBron a star sidekick. LeBron had just two All-Star teammates in those years: Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2005 and Williams in 2009.
LeBron didn’t make the playoffs until 2006, so few were sweating his supporting cast when Ilgauskas reached the All-Star game. By the time they traded for Williams in 2008, the Cavaliers had already been to the Finals, where LeBron was overwhelmed by the deep Spurs.
So – with an All-Star appearance to his name – the burden of being LeBron’s top teammate fell to Williams.
That was asking a bit too much of him. Williams is a good jump-shooter, and he passes pretty well, but he’s streaky and has never defended well. He’s no Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, and he never should have been positioned to be.
Williams – the No. 47 pick in the 2003 draft – should be celebrated for carving out such a long career from such humble beginnings. The only other active players who have played so long after being drafted so low or going undrafted are Manu Ginobili, Rasual Butler, Kyle Korver, James Jones, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem.
Instead, Williams has worn a not-good-enough-for-LeBron label as he made stops with the Clippers, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Timberwolves and Hornets.
Williams returned to a comfortable position this summer by signing with Cleveland – right next to LeBron. His true-shooting percentages with LeBron on the court – 59.1 in 2008-09, 60.6 in 2009-10 and 62.5 in 2015-16 – have been higher than any season without LeBron.
Here are Williams’ shooting percentages without LeBron on the floor as a teammate (wine) and with LeBron on the floor as a teammate (gold):
Williams has assisted LeBron more than anyone has, and nobody has assisted Williams more than LeBron has this season.
They look in sync, just as they did a few years ago:
But it wasn’t long ago Williams was fuming about how LeBron left Cleveland, and that frostiness was just as visible:
That relationship has been repaired, according to Anderson Varejao, who has played for the Cavs since 2004.
“I’m telling you, in the locker or on the court, to me, it feels like it never happened,” Varejao said. “…Dinners together, everything is fine.
“They’re good. They’re good friends.”
How did Williams wind up back in Cleveland to even give himself a chance of reconnecting with LeBron?
In 2013, Williams left the Jazz because they wouldn’t make him a starter. He went to Portland, where he wanted to stay, but he opted out for more money with the Timberwolves in 2014. Minnesota dealt him just before the trade deadline to Charlotte, where he averaged 21.3 and 8.5 assists in his first 11 games. The Hornets essentially gave him the biggest role of his career.
But Williams signed with the Cavs last summer, probably taking less money than he could’ve gotten elsewhere. He’ll almost certainly return to the bench once Irving gets healthy.
Why did Williams give up so much to return to LeBron and Cleveland?
Varejao says he has noticed more maturity from Williams since they were teammates in 2011.
“Now, more than ever, he’s thirsty to win,” Varejao said. “All he wants to do is win.”
Whatever Williams has been through with him, LeBron can certainly help Williams do that.