MILWAUKEE - Mo Williams chose Brew City over Pat Riley and South Beach on Tuesday, signing a six-year, $51.5 million contract to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Mo Williams drives past New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007, in Milwaukee. Williams chose Brew City over Pat Riley and South Beach on Tuesday, July 24, 2007, signing a six-year, $51.5 million contract to remain with the Bucks. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
It's another step forward for the Bucks, who held on to their starting point guard one day after reeling in free agent small forward Desmond Mason. These moves helped soften several weeks' worth of discouraging words coming from handlers of Chinese basketball star Yi Jianlian, who was drafted by the Bucks at No. 6 but hasn't yet shown any willingness to sign.
As far as Williams is concerned, Milwaukee is the place to be.
"The thought of it kind of warms your heart up, knowing that you're at a place that loves you on and off the court," Williams said.
Williams' heartwarming experience came at the expense of the Miami Heat, who put on a full-court press to woo Williams by flying him to Miami earlier this month to have dinner with Riley.
Bucks general manager Larry Harris knew Williams was the second-most-coveted point guard on the market after the Pistons' Chauncey Billups. Harris figured the Heat and perhaps the Cleveland Cavaliers would make strong runs at Williams, leading to a lot of sleepless nights.
"I thought that when he went to Miami, it would be a one-way ticket," Harris said. "And that was the thing that concerned me, because I know that Pat can sell it."
Harris joked that it'd be hard for anybody to resist Riley's personality.
"Oh, you're motivated when you walk away from that," Harris said. "The guy makes $10,000 an appearance. He knows how to motivate."
But Williams said he didn't really want the full free-agent schmoozing experience, insisting that he always wanted to stay with the Bucks and that his trip to Miami was nothing more than a "mini-vacation."
How could he say no to Riley, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade?
"Being here in Milwaukee is different from going to a new team," Williams said. "I mean, we all see Miami from the outside looking in and say, 'OK, they've got Pat Riley in Miami.' But people don't know, everything that looks good on the outside, everything is not peaches and cream on the other side of the field. So I felt like at the same time, I know what to expect here."
Williams' six-year contract includes player options for the final two seasons, agent Mark Bartelstein said. Despite the high-profile courting from Miami, Bartelstein said Williams always felt comfortable with Milwaukee, the Bucks and new head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
"Milwaukee's a great situation," Bartelstein said. "But when you're a free agent, you owe it to yourself to see what's out there."
The Bucks limped to a 28-54 record last season. But the team was riddled with injuries all season and figures to be much improved if healthy.
"I know this team is going to be a good team next year," Williams said. "There wasn't a doubt."
Williams, 24, averaged career highs in points (17.3), rebounds (4.8) and assists (6.1) last season. He was taken by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the 2003 draft and signed with the Bucks before the 2004-05 season.
Next season, he'll be counted on to take on more of a leadership role.
"He's gotten better each year with us, but now the bar gets raised a little bit higher," Harris said. "The bar gets raised — financially it gets raised, the expectations come with that, and he's got to be consistent every night. And that's on both ends of the floor."
Harris said Williams has vowed to improve his defense, and expects the player to become a "very acceptable" defender.
"He's too athletic and he's too quick, and he's going to take his game to another level," Harris said.
Williams said he was ready to lead.
"Basically in my mind, it's my team," Williams said. "Things don't go right, I'm the point guard. I'm the leader on the floor, an extension of the coach."
Now that he has landed Williams and Mason, Harris can turn his attention to Yi.
Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl has extended a formal invitation to Yi, his family and Chinese basketball officials to visit the city. And if Harris can just get Yi in town, he figures he can close the deal.
"Once I can get a player here, they'll stay," Harris said. "I really believe that."