The last time Mo Williams signed an NBA contract, he had the look of a rising star amid a second-round success story for the ages. He parlayed an all-around performance of 17.3 points, 6.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds a game into a $51.263MM contract that stretched out over six years, a length that wouldn't be allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement. Just one season into the arrangement, Milwaukee traded him to the Cavs, who thought he could be a much-needed second scoring option next to LeBron James. Williams never really became that kind of player in Cleveland, and two more trades later, his value on the open market isn't what it used to be.
His replacements struggled when Williams missed two and a half months with a severely sprained right thumb this season, but the Jazz had a better record when he was out (21-15) than when he played (22-24). The 30-year-old averaged 12.9 PPG this year, his fewest since 2005/06, and he did so on an amount of shot attempts that's held steady the past four seasons. His assists were up over last season, when he primarily played shooting guard next to Chris Paul with the Clippers, but his turnovers jumped as well, and he finished with an assists-to-turnover ratio of 2.28.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey praised Williams' performance prior to the injury this season, and indicated the team was open to bringing him back as the team's point guard. When Williams returned, his assists went down by one a game and his shooting percentage dropped from .441 to .418. More importantly, the Jazz failed to make the playoffs, and that may weigh most heavily on Lindsey's mind.
Lindsey and executive vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor are notoriously tight-lipped, so it's hard to say what their opinion of Williams is now. The Jazz only have seven players under contract for next season, meaning the front office has plenty to consider. Negotiating with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap or their replacements is likely the team's first priority, so what happens in the early days of free agency could have a significant effect on Williams' next contract.
The Alabama product's declining play figures to bring about a commensurate decline in salary. The question is how much less Williams will have to take after making $8.5MM this season. He's helped by a class of free agent point guards that's fairly weak after Paul, who's likely to re-sign with the Clippers, and restricted free agents Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague. Teams will likely be choosing between Williams, Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack. Calderon will probably be the top pick among them, particularly for teams looking for pure, pass-first point guards. Our Luke Adams estimated that Calderon could command three years and more than $20MM on his next deal.
Jack and Williams wound up with precisely the same scoring average this season, though Jack probably played a greater role in his team's offense down the stretch. A team could give Jack an inflated offer to try to scare off the financially inflexible Warriors, and that may mean a similar offer for Williams.
It's more likely Williams winds up with the full mid-level exception, which would be a four-year deal with a starting salary of $5.15MM. Taking the mid-level would allow Williams to sign with teams that are over the cap. He's been with plenty of winning squads of late, but Williams has only once been as far as the conference finals, so winning may be a priority. Williams will be even more likely to sign with a contender if he and agent Mark Bartelstein let teams know he's open to coming off the bench, as he did last season with the Clippers.