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Mo Williams Took Cavaliers’ Success for Granted

Mo Williams can’t remember much from his playoff runs with the Cavs, and wishes he would’ve cherished those moments more.

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There was a period in Mo Williams’ NBA career when it felt like the winning would never end. The Cleveland Cavaliers were on top of the league. Deep playoff runs were expected his first two years on a team stacked with talent, led by LeBron James.

Williams was the starting point guard and emerged into an All-Star. He played in 25 postseason games in those two years. He became so accustomed to success during that brief stretch, he never stopped to let it soak in.

Nearly five years later, he draws a blank on his highest moment during that span.

“Can’t remember. Can’t remember,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “I thought it would never end, so I didn’t think it was something I had to remember.”

Williams is now 32 years old. He is in his 12th NBA season and on his eighth team, traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Charlotte Hornets last month. Over his career he has appeared in 49 playoff games, most recently last year with the Portland Trail Blazers. But none of his five postseason pushes were as significant as those from 2008-10 in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers held the best record in the NBA during Williams’ first two seasons. They finished 66-16 in 2008-09 and swept the first two rounds of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. The following season, they won 61 regular season games and made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing to the Boston Celtics.

Each season they were projected as championship contenders. The notion of winning it all was within reach.

“(I thought it would happen) every year, every year,” Williams said. “You take for granted how hard it is to get to those points in your career. When it’s gone, you realize it was just a fad, it’ll leave. You have to take in every moment and continue to give it your all on the floor. You’ve got to think, what’s promised to you today is not promised to you tomorrow.”

James signed with the Miami HEAT in the summer of 2010 and, in an instant, the Cavaliers as Williams knew them were different. The team entered a rebuilding stage. The wins that once accumulated quickly were barely trickling in.

In February of that season, Williams was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers were 10-47 at the time. As he moved on to his new team, the era of championship aspirations in Cleveland was quickly behind him.

“You forget about the day before because you’re having so much fun,” he said. “You just wish you would’ve cherished more when you know it’s going to come to an end. When you never think it’s coming to an end, you forget about yesterday.”

Williams played the following season with the Clippers as well. He came off the bench as they reached the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals and were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers traded Williams to the Utah Jazz during the 2012 offseason as part of a four-team deal. The Jazz missed the playoffs that season. Williams signed with the Trail Blazers in the summer of 2013. His team was once again eliminated by the Spurs in the second round.

Last July, Williams inked a new contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were not playoff contenders, though Williams saw a silver lining.

“You get to my age, you start to really appreciate every game,” Williams said. “Even when I was in Minnesota, I appreciated every game. You cherish these moments because you don’t know when they’re going to be your last. … 12th year, so next year I’ll be talking about 13th, then 14th. Then some point after that, you’re going be asking me retirement questions and I don’t want to think about that yet.”

In February, the Timberwolves sent Williams to the Hornets, a team that is well below .500 but not out of playoff contention in the East. Williams is determined to get them there, averaging 23.4 points and 7.0 assists over his last five games. He was nominated for Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

“There’s nothing like the playoffs,” Williams said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad I got here, with that opportunity again. The whole fabric of the game changes. It’s a different focus, a different energy level. … I just want to win. It’s as simple as that — just win. I’m at the point at my career where I’ve made a lot of money, been an All-Star, and one thing I haven’t experienced is playing at the highest level and that’s winning a championship. That’s everybody’s goal.”

Williams wants to make new postseason memories. The ones from the previous years are scarce. If he has the opportunity to contend again, he will soak up every sight and sound around him.

“(I’ll savor) every last one of them,” he said. “Everything — the drive there, the warmup, the game itself, postgame, where I eat after the game, what I do.”

He can’t replace the experiences he struggles to remember from the Cavaliers, but he will try to create new ones.

“Every good team breaks up at some point,” Williams said. “You just have to cherish those moments when you’re great.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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