Mo Williams was confident. Cocky. Brash, bullish and borderline arrogant.
He was also cool. Smooth. Soft-spoken, calm and subdued.
The replacement for Devin Harris was the opposite of Harris.
The latter avoided the spotlight. Williams soaked it in Tuesday, during his introductory news conference at the Jazz practice facility. And where the hard-to-crack Harris often spoke in brief, choppy sentences that ended abruptly, Williams spilled.
About his ever-growing family that’ll require an 18-wheeler to move their possessions to Salt Lake City, and a wallet that’s only grown fatter during his nine-year career in the NBA. About ex-Utah coach Jerry Sloan’s foul mouth and warm heart. The boulder on Williams’ shoulder that’s only grown larger since 2003, when he was a naïve Jazz rookie reserve point guard. His close friendship with Miami forward LeBron James, which was cemented during their annual 60-plus win run in Cleveland, and driven home in June as Williams watched a humbled king claim the 2012 crown.
Anything that was asked Tuesday, Williams answered. But it was midway through a 15-minute post-news conference interview when he revealed his biggest secret. Williams knows the Jazz. And not just the old Sloan-coached team, but the current crew he now belongs to.
With a soft southern accent, Williams rattled off names such as Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Paul Millasp and Al Jefferson without hesitation. Williams then spoke in detail about each player’s sweet spot — where they’re best in the open court; where they excel with the ball in their hands.
Utah’s reclaimed point guard will soon soak up game tape of his new team. He’ll spend three weeks during August working and hanging out with Jefferson in Jackson, Miss., Williams’ hometown. And the fiery veteran acquired last Friday via a four-team trade — paving the way for Monday’s deal that’s expected to soon ship Harris to Atlanta — provided preacher-like verbal proof he could be the unyielding answer Utah searched for but never found during a captain-less 2011-12 season.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams wants to lead. He’s desperate for a title. He’s been overlooked, counted out and dumbed down his entire career. Suddenly, the Jazz belong to him. And during a hectic four-day period that’s seen him unexpectedly return to SLC, then have the reins of Utah’s offense tossed in his hands, Williams isn’t backing down. Instead, he’s owning up to and living in the moment.
“I look forward to the challenge. I accept challenges. I’ve done it since I came in the NBA,” Williams, 29, said.
When Williams was drafted No. 47 overall by Utah in 2003 out of Alabama, critics said he wasn’t a true point guard. His answer? Nine years in the league, 432 games as a starter.
When Williams’ scoring drastically jumped upward and he began a four-year run in which he averaged at least 15.8 points from 2006-10 while helping lead the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference finals, experts said he wasn’t a pass-first floor leader. His self-reflective answer Tuesday? “I’m not. I’m a scoring point guard. I think that’s been solidified.”
But the game has also slowed down for him. Now, Williams knows when to pick his spots. He understands when he must speak out. And while much of Williams’ animated personality remains — chippy, highly competitive, a fighter who’ll punch quickly and dart faster — his athletic ego has been rounded out with a new mantra: find the open man.
“I’m a big believer in that,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. Let’s play together. Let’s move the ball. And the ball will find the open man — it’ll find it. And we’ll find the best shot available each and every time down the floor.”
It’s Sloan speak. It’s Tyrone Corbin ball. It’s the Jazz system.
Williams’ official return Tuesday to the franchise that first took a chance on him displayed a player who, on Day One, appeared as if he’ll fit in better with the Jazz than Harris ever did during 18 months of frustrating inconsistency. Williams wants to set up Jefferson on the low block. He wants to hit Hayward off screens. He wants to turn Favors into a bigger, badder beast. And, yeah, Williams wants to drill a few 3s on his way back to the playoffs.
“I like competing against Chris Paul. I like competing against Derrick Rose. I like competing against Russell Westbrook,” he said. “Obviously, I’m a team guy. I feel like my team can win. I don’t individually have to beat you. You can be the superstar of the league — it doesn’t bother me. But I guarantee [game] night, my team will win.”