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Kragthorpe: Mo Williams gives Jazz an upgrade over Devin Harris

By Kurt Kragthorpe

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jun 29 2012 07:04 pm • Last Updated Sep 11 2012 11:40 pm

The homecomings of Greg Ostertag and Raja Bell have worked out wonderfully for the Jazz, so how could anyone not be thrilled about the return of point guard Mo Williams?

Well, Williams’ arrival from the Los Angeles Clippers via a multiteam trade might have made more of an impact during the previous decade, when the prime of his career was being played out in Milwaukee and Cleveland. This deal comes too late to right General Manager Kevin O’Connor’s wrong, bringing back a player he never should have let go — as we all know now. Of course, the disastrous 2004-05 season enabled the Jazz to draft Deron Williams, who became an All-Star in Utah before being traded last year, which brings us back to Mo Williams.

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So the summary of this transaction is simple: Mo Williams is an upgrade over Devin Harris at point guard, and acquiring him is a good use of the trade exception available to O’Connor after last December’s trade of Mehmet Okur.

To say Williams completely solves the Jazz’s issues would be much too strong, but this is a start. The Jazz go from having a top-15 NBA point guard run their team to a top-10 candidate who will rise far above the second editions of Ostertag and Bell merely by staying out of coach Tyrone Corbin’s doghouse.

The real intrigue involves what comes next — specifically, what happens with Harris? Williams’ presence creates an opportunity to trade Harris and his expiring contract, potentially delivering the outside shooter the Jazz desperately need.

There’s also the alternative of having Harris swing to shooting guard, where he fits more naturally into the Jazz’s offensive scheme. Williams should blend in smoothly, providing some toughness and leadership that this team needs. As he approaches his 30th birthday in December, there’s every reason to believe he can establish himself with the Jazz and solidify a critical position for a few years to come.

You know, like he could have done in 2004 and beyond.

That’s the same summer the Jazz gave Andrei Kirilenko a maximum contract in a move that was similarly defensible at the time, but also would haunt them. As a second-round draft choice, Williams was eligible to sign a free-agent offer sheet after his rookie season, and O’Connor chose not to match Milwaukee’s deal.

That decision came during the Olympics in Athens, where Carlos Arroyo and Puerto Rico stunned the U.S. team with a 24-point effort in a 92-73 upset. O’Connor attended those Games and acknowledged that Arroyo’s performance "sure did" influence his thinking about Williams, whose post-Jazz success tends to distort what he did here — averaging 5.0 points in 57 games, shooting 38 percent.

O’Connor figured that with Arroyo and Raul Lopez, Williams would not play much. As it turned out, the Olympic experience ruined Arroyo, whose freewheeling style clashed with the Jazz’s structure, and he was traded to Detroit in January. The continuing search for a point guard went through Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio before Deron Williams finally took over, eventually becoming an All-Star in 2010 — a year after Mo Williams reached that level in Cleveland.

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So here comes Mo again, taking his shot at revising the Jazz’s all-time Williams rankings. Right now, that list reads: 1. Deron; 2. Nate; 3. Duck; 4. Mo; 5. Freeman; 6. Rickey; 7. Aaron.

That’s disregarding Robert Whaley, who once said his name was "Bobby Williams" when police questioned him and Deron Williams ("Torrye Ellis").

In any case, if he’s in the top two before he leaves again, Mo Williams will have justified his return. The standard for judging him is not Deron Williams, it is Devin Harris.


Twitter: @tribkurt

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