The signing of Mo Williams continues an offseason trend for the Portland Trail Blazers and General Manager Neil Olshey. Williams is now the fifth role player that Olshey has brought in this summer in an attempt to create second unit that does not dramatically drop off when the starters need a break. Olshey’s relentless and successful pursuit of free agents this offseason not only shows his understanding of team needs but also his desire to put together playoff contenders now.
Like recent signings Earl Watson and C.J. McCollum, Mo Williams is another undersized guard. Including Damian Lillard, the Blazers now have 5 guards 6’ 4” or shorter, four of which primarily play the point guard position. This fact is a bit curious, especially considering the Blazers don’t have a natural shooting guard ready to go behind Wesley Matthews. It’s going to be interesting to see both how head coach Terry Stotts delegates playing time amongst the guards, but also who will be pulling double duty at both backcourt positions.
With Allen Crabbe playing himself onto the Idaho Stampede after an abysmal Summer League performance, Williams can come in and be the knock down shooter off the bench the Blazers hoped Crabbe would be. Williams has always been a shoot first point guard with both an efficient mid-range and three point shot. Most likely though, Olshey saw a proven contributor who is okay with coming off the bench (“sixth starter”, according to Williams), and who could be brought in at a reasonable price. When your bench was in a situation like the Blazers were in last year, the goal is to bring in as many competent bodies as possible, and let potential redundancies work themselves out later.
The Blazers have now added five role players who will be immediate rotation guys in McCollum, Williams, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson. Lopez will probably be the only one of those five who will be starting regularly as Meyers Leonard is still some time from filling that role. The Blazers were dead last in bench production last season but may have one of the best in the league this year, thanks to the front office’s aggressive pursuit of undervalued role players. Think about it, Thomas Robinson, a rebounding machine with unlimited upside, might be the Blazers’ ninth best player going into the season. The Blazers didn’t have a ninth best player for all of last season.
The bad news is the Western Conference looks to be even more competitive this year. There are twelve teams that have the potential to be over .500 in the West in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Clippers, Memphis, Golden State, Houston, Dallas, Minnesota, New Orleans, and Portland. With a conference this hotly contested, any offseason move that brings more talent and depth might be the difference between a playoff berth and an early vacation. The Williams deal is the perfect way to round out an offseason that can only be seen as a resounding success.
The pressure now lies on the shoulders of the inexperienced Terry Stotts and the enigmatic LaMarcus Aldridge. Since the Blazers addressed their roster weaknesses, it should go without saying that Stotts will be expected to lead the team to a better season. Another year of mediocre basketball will probably ensure an Aldridge exit next offseason, assuming they keep the all-star forward until then.
Simply put, the Blazers have a better team and should have a better season. Olshey is trying to win now and bring playoff basketball back to the Pacific Northwest. Aldridge is in the prime of his career and Blazers’ management cannot afford to waste another season of that. It’s an exciting time to be a Blazers’ fan again.