LOS ANGELES — Underground GOAT. Sweet Lou. Six Man. Your favorite player's favorite player. Those are a few of the many nicknames Lou Williams got during his highly successful years as a fan favorite with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nearly a year removed from the trade that sent him to the Atlanta Hawks, however, Lou Williams still ponders what could've been if the Clippers allowed him to close out the 2020-21 season in Los Angeles instead of trading him.
Williams wanted to remain a Clipper. Alongside Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, the hard-nosed, gritty culture was one he helped build. This was the fan base he single-handedly rejuvenated with every clutch shot and game-winner. More importantly, this was home.
The three-time Sixth Man of the Year desperately wanted a chance to finish the job a season after falling short in embarrassing fashion and blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. Lou Williams repeatedly called this team with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George “his best chance to win a championship,” and with rumors of a retirement somewhat on the horizon, it's all he had left to add to his illustrious résumé.
On March 25, 2021, the Clippers decided to go a different direction. In an exclusive interview with ClutchPoints, Lou Williams says he wishes things went differently.
“I wish we would’ve been a little bit more patient with the process of trying to build something special,” Williams told ClutchPoints in an exclusive interview. “But you know in this day and age of the NBA, it's instant results or nothing. That was the only disappointing part, but I have no regrets. I enjoy everybody, no hard feelings towards anybody. It's cool.”
The 2021 NBA Trade Deadline was a busy one, with multiple contending teams making splashes while others opted to keep their core and improve on the margins. The Clippers were a part of the latter, trading Lou Williams, along with a pair of second-round picks, in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for Rajon Rondo.
“It kind of caught me off guard a little bit,” Williams said, explaining how the days and hours leading up to the trade went from his perspective. “We heard a couple of little rumblings, nothing really that was sticking. I felt like something was gonna happen, but we didn’t know with who. We didn’t know with what guys. I think that deadline was at three o'clock. I got traded at like 2:45 or something like that. I was preparing for the game and got the call from my agent, he said, ‘We think something is happening, stay by your phone.' And got that call. That was a tough pill to swallow, but business is business. Things happen.”
Clippers president Lawrence Frank called trading Williams one of the hardest things he has ever had to do.
“It sucks,” Frank said shortly after the deal was made official.” Lou gave us swagger, he was our soul, and he gave us a lot of scoring. He was a great connector and he doesn’t get enough credit for the calmness that he brought to the group, the leadership, and the mentorship.
“It is nothing but appreciation, respect, and love for Lou and what he has done for the Clippers organization.”
Rondo brought championship experience, a vocal leadership, and gave the Clippers a brilliant basketball mind at the point guard position. Or, at least that's how it appeared at first.
The Rondo experiment was a success during the regular season, but a colossal failure in the postseason. He played a combined 31 games for the Clippers — 18 regular-season games, 13 playoff games — after being acquired at the deadline.
With Kawhi Leonard suffering his season-ending ACL injury, Tyronn Lue looked to Rajon Rondo to help with scoring, playmaking duties, and keeping the team afloat while giving Paul George or Reggie Jackson a breather. Instead, Rondo's play quickly turned into that of a traffic cop, directing man movement from the top of the key without much ball movement. It was evident he was unplayable for the most part.
Not four months later, the Clippers essentially admitted their mistake and packaged him with Patrick Beverley in the deal for Eric Bledsoe.
Lou Williams just made his return to Los Angeles to face the Clippers for the first time since being shipped out 10 months ago. The disappointing part is he was inactive and didn't play. The Hawks have been underwhelming this season, and Lou Williams with them, leading the team to bench the three-time Sixth Man of the Year.
No one embraced being a sixth man better than Lou Williams, and the only two who you could make a case for are Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford. When you talk about being a star in your role, Williams exemplifies that, and then some. It's no wonder fans instantly attached themselves to him, his style of play, and his cool approach to the game.
The Clippers played Lou Williams his tribute video during the first timeout of the game, and he received a standing ovation from fans, Clippers players, and his Hawks teammates.
“I thought it was nice,” Williams said. “Felt good to get a warm welcome. Come back and see some familiar faces, see some fans, so it felt good. Felt good to see that.”
Clippers tribute video for Lou Williams: pic.twitter.com/mN8S2dW0SH
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 9, 2022
Before the game, Lou Williams embraced a few Clippers staffers and arena employees. After the game, he met his former Clippers teammates at center court, hugging, laughing, and teasing each other.
“It just felt good [to see those guys again]. Like I said, I’ve built some great relationships here my four or five years here in this span with this group of guys and this coaching staff and these players. We created a culture here that I was very much a part of, so it feels good to see it still going, still moving in the right direction, seeing some of the young guys growing into their own. Terance is growing into his own, Amir as well, so it’s good.”
Williams left the Clippers, a team expected to make a deep playoff run, to join the Hawks, a youthful team with an unclear future. Both teams ended up reaching their respective conference finals, but both fell short of reaching the NBA Finals.
Not even a tight, seven-game series with the Philadelphia 76ers, however, could stop Lou Williams from checking out his former team. He took a rookie out of Florida State University under his wing, and helped that “rook” develop into the Terance Mann that dropped 37 points in an incredible Game 6 comeback against the Utah Jazz.
“I was extremely happy for him. I was proud. I spent a lot of time with him just helping him on things that I thought that he can do and, at the same time, he saw a lot in himself that he’s bringing out to the light for these fans and this organization to see.”
Williams also took note of the two-year, $22 million extension Mann earned after his big postseason performances.
“He got paid, got some cheese, you know, hopefully build into that, grow, and get some more. I’m extremely happy for him.”
The Lob City Clippers failing to win an NBA championship remains one of the biggest letdowns in history, considering how successful that team was in the regular season. It's no surprise, then, that trading away Chris Paul and Blake Griffin within a seven-month period put a major damper on Clippers fans' hopes to cheer on a competitive team that could one day win a championship.
The players acquired in the trades for Paul and Griffin, however, had other ideas.
Due to injuries, the Clippers put out 37 different starting lineups in the 2017-18 season, yet they still finished with a 42-40 record thanks to Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell becoming the highest scoring bench tandem in NBA history.
The following season, the Williams-Harrell duo beat their own scoring averages, leading the Clippers to a 48-34 record without a single All-Star on the roster and a midseason shakeup for the second year in a row. That same team pushed the Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry-led Warriors to six games, which included a 31-point comeback victory for LA in Game 2.
With so many memories from his four years in LA, Lou Williams couldn't pick just one.
“One moment? It’ll be hard to pinpoint one. I’m just … I’m grateful that I had a really good run here and that it’s appreciated and we just did some really special things. I can’t really pinpoint one, but I watched the video today on the bus on my way over here when I saw it, and it felt good just to watch it, reminisce a little bit. It just came up on my timeline and I was able to check it out. It was dope.”
Lou Williams makes his return to LA today for the first time since the trade.
• 19.1 points
• 2.7 rebounds
• 5.1 assists
• 2x Sixth Man of the Year
• Became leading bench scorer in NBA history
Here are his clutch moments with the Clippers:
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 9, 2022
If there's one thing he hopes fans take away from his Clippers tenure, it's the fight and the work he put in every day to make the Clippers a formidable opponent and a respectable franchise.
“I would hope that it’s appreciated. You know, we put a really big effort into trying to make this somewhere that was difficult for teams to come and play and at the same time, for guys to want to come and play here and be a part of it. We put blood, sweat, and tears into that, and so looking back on it, pretty much everybody’s moved on. Obviously, you still got the core guys, but looking back, we were happy with it. I don’t have any regrets in my time here. Really grateful and appreciative of everything that we’ve done.”
Williams is currently in his 17th season in the NBA. Father Time has clearly started catching up to him, and now that he's a father of three kids, his future with them is something he's constantly thinking more and more about.
As for how many more years he has left in him to play, that appears to be something he's still undecided on.
“Who knows? The clock’s running though,” Williams quipped when asked how much longer he's going to play.
Williams has seen a steep decline in his game over the last season, but part of that could be attributed to the bigger mess that is the Hawks, currently. He likely still has some more left to give to the game, but he'll want to go out on his own terms rather than being benched like he currently is — even if that means potentially finding a new team to play for.
“The clock is running. My oldest daughter is 11 and she’s into the game and playing AAU and I miss a lot of those moments chasing my dreams. My son, he loves the game. Obviously, he’s really young, but he really enjoys just being in the atmosphere of the gym, so he loves it.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot of things and I’ve done a lot in the game, so if it’s time for me to focus on my kids and focus on being a father and a parent, and that time is now, I’m completely comfortable with that. But if it drives me to play another year or two where I’m appreciated, where I can be used appropriately, then I would do that too. We’ll see.”
Williams' youngest child, Syx, just turned 2 years old. It's Williams' only son, and it has given him a different perspective on fatherhood. He even detailed the specific differences in raising a boy versus raising two girls in ways that, well, only Lou Williams could describe.
“It’s completely different. You raise girls to stay away from guys like you and you raise your son to be exactly like you. So it’s completely different.”
Lou Williams says he wanted to give his newborn son a unique name and went with Syx, since Lou is a 3-time Sixth Man of the Year.
Also says he’ll have a basketball in his hands soon – “It won’t be long. A couple weeks. Gonna give him time to eat and realize he’s in our world.” pic.twitter.com/rlKPkNodGM
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 3, 2020
Lou Williams finished his four-year Clippers career averaging 19.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, winning two Sixth Man of the Year Awards while becoming the leading bench scorer in NBA history.
Is a return to the Clippers, via trade or free agency, something he'd consider when the time is right?
“Absolutely,” Williams confirmed. “If it makes sense, absolutely. Like I said, I have no hard feelings towards nobody. Obviously, I’ve still got great relationships here, so if it makes sense for both parties, we’ll do it.”