First Season Could Be Last in Orlando for Jason Williams
It became a steal for the Magic, especially when they needed him to start 18 games while Jameer Nelson healed after knee surgery.
It won't be so easy to get him next season.
Williams, 34, used this season to prove he still had some game, that his knees were solid, and that his past championship experience was valuable to a contender looking for stability.
All of which was invaluable for the Magic, but probably doesn't bode well for him being back next season. His market value as an unrestricted free agent this summer will be higher than what the Magic will want to pay.
"I love this place. I love the season we've had, but I really don't want to say that (I'll be back for sure) because if I have a better offer over there, why would I take this here?'' he said after a recent practice. "If this is where I end up, I'd be happy, but you can't say what's going to happen.''
Williams will be in his usual role behind Nelson Wednesday night when the Magic play the Bobcats in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series. He was hardly needed in Game 1 because Nelson was playing so well, but that hasn't always been the case this season.
Williams played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his 12-year career. He averaged 6 points and 3.6 assists in 20.8 minutes, and most importantly, ranked seventh in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.43-1).
The Magic were 14-4 in games Williams started, and Nelson didn't play. Although he can't handle starter minutes over an entire season anymore, his consistency as a backup would be appealing to contenders.
"He did an outstanding job this season,'' said Magic general manager Otis Smith, who was reluctant to talk about Williams future in the midst of the playoffs. "But as an unrestricted free agent, he'll be in the driver's seat.''
Before signing Williams this summer, Smith tried to land a younger point guard instead, hoping to groom someone behind the injury-prone Nelson. The Magic already are over the luxury tax threshold for next season. They want to re-sign J.J. Redick, making anything beyond the minimum for Williams unlikely, especially if he returns as a No. 3 point guard.
Williams, the starting point guard in Miami when the Heat won the NBA title in 2006, sat out last season after announcing his retirement, forfeiting his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.
He was itching this summer to return, preferring to make it Orlando, where his young family was living.
"I want to keep playing. I know that. I feel great, and everything about this organization has been wonderful,'' he said. "I just don't know (what will happen this summer). We usually talk about that in July.''