MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Mo Williams is on his way to Minnesota, which means J.J. Barea could be on his way out.
The Timberwolves and Williams have agreed to a $3.75 million, one-year contract, the player’s agency, Priority Sports, announced on Monday. The agreement gives the Timberwolves an experienced and versatile combo guard to play behind Ricky Rubio.
Williams turns 32 in December and is coming off a season in Portland in which he averaged 9.7 points per game for his lowest output since his rookie year in 2003-04. But his ability to shoot — he is a career 38.5 percent shooter from 3-point range — and handle the ball made him an attractive target for the Timberwolves, who were looking for a quality veteran to play behind Rubio and alongside rookie Zach LaVine next season.
“I couldn’t be more happy to put on a Twolves (jersey),” Williams tweeted. “Looking forward to playing with some good young talent and help the maturation process take place.”
The Timberwolves had one of the most productive starting units in the NBA from an offensive standpoint last season, but the production dipped dramatically when the reserves took the floor. Alexey Shved struggled mightily and was never able to assume the primary ball-handling role that the team envisioned when they brought him over from Russia in 2012.
Shved’s lackluster play forced then-coach Rick Adelman to use Barea as a more conventional point guard, saddling him with responsibilities of running the offense and getting his teammates involved, which didn’t play to the fiery guard’s strengths. Barea was at his best in Dallas, playing alongside bigger point guard Jason Kidd so he could assume the role of a mini-shooting guard and create mismatches with his ability to penetrate.
He signed a four-year deal with Minnesota in 2011, but has struggled while playing the backup point guard spot for much of that time.
Barea is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $4.5 million next season. So if Timberwolves President Flip Saunders is able to trade Barea this summer, he essentially will be saving $750,000 while getting a player more equipped to handle multiple responsibilities in Williams, all while maintaining salary cap flexibility going forward.
Williams, who was an All-Star in 2009 when he helped LeBron James and the Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals, declined his $2.7 million player option to become a free agent. He picked up a nice little raise to come to Minnesota and will get a chance to play some significant minutes on a Timberwolves team that could have a completely different look when next season begins.
Williams is also an 87 percent free-throw shooter for his career, and on a team short on ball-handlers he figures to get plenty of time in the fourth quarter during close games.
Barea’s name has been mentioned often during trade talks that center around All-Star forward Kevin Love, who can opt out of his contract next season and has told the Wolves he wants to play for a contender.
The Wolves have engaged in significant discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who want to team Love with James and Kyrie Irving to form a new-look Big 3 in the East.
The Wolves also have talked to Golden State, Chicago, Boston and several other teams about Love. But with a package that could include No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick, the Cavaliers have the assets the Wolves covet most. Any deal could not be completed until Aug. 23, 30 days after Wiggins signed his contract.
The Timberwolves are using this waiting period to explore all of their options, including the possibility of adding a third team to the mix to unload players like Barea and Shved, who will make just under $3.3 million next season.
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