The Clippers were not good for a very long time. There were times when they were briefly good, and occasionally very good, but this never felt sustainable while Donald Sterling owned the franchise. Blake Griffin was then drafted and started a new era of prosperity for the team, and before he left, Sterling was fortuitously exiled. Now the team is not only talking about its future, but its legacy.
Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan were the big 3 of Lob City, and all three have very strong arguments to have their jerseys retired even if their circumstances leaving the squad were very different. Ralph Lawler is a shoe-in to have his name in the rafters as well. And now that we are in an age of Clipper basketball that seems to have the team in its best position to win a championship, this might mean more names may be up for consideration.
Much has been made of the Los Angeles County ties of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players are in the midst of their primes and would seem like good candidates to bet on having their jerseys retired, but this is all pending their very delicate free agency talks as well as the upcoming seasons. Patrick Beverley is referenced as the heart and soul of the team and the embodiment of this new “LA Our Way” persona, but it’s hard to say if his resume will stick out to be retired by the time he calls it quits.
One player I keep having a suspicion will have a great argument is 6th man extraordinaire Lou Williams.
Now, I am not saying this is a given, but let’s keep some perspective on Williams. One, the story of a journeyman on the brink of retirement before finding his home with the Clippers is one I have always been fond of. Not only was Lou on the brink of calling it quits, he was fresh off of quick stints where he was tossed aside by the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers, a couple teams Clipper fans do not have spare love for. Lou bought into the system, and signed an extremely team friendly deal that played a huge role in securing other great players.
The story is nice, but let’s look at some stats:
Now the assists may tip you off on who player A is, and that’s Chris Paul’s 2014-15 season. Paul is a statistics darling and his PERs through his prime in New Orleans and his time with the Clippers are all insane. He’s a hands down first ballot Hall of Famer and whatever your opinion of him may be, the guy objectively does deserve to have his legacy cemented as a Clipper in one shape or another. Player B is another Clipper point guard favorite, the 2005-2006 Sam Cassell year, where the Clippers were a Daniel Ewing possession away from having a stranglehold on their second round series against the Phoenix Suns. Cassell doesn’t have the mileage to be really considered a Clipper great, but this season will be one of the most memorable ones from a guard that we’ve seen in modern Clipper history. Player C is Lou Williams season from 2017-18. This season on its own is incredible, but it is made even more incredible when you consider that he put up nearly identical numbers the following season while playing about 6 minutes less per game. So, while Lou’s numbers are likely objectively short of an all time great like Paul, they stand up pretty well when you compare him to the next great Clipper playmaker season in Cassell. This is not even mentioning Lou’s elite pick and roll synergy with Montrezl Harrell that gave the Clippers the most offensively proliferate bench in NBA history.
Cassell and Paul also showed out in those postseasons, and have had history of having strong postseasons in their careers. Lou did have a bit of a knock for not showing up in the postseason going into last year’s surprising Clipper run that lead them to the Warriors. Well, about that..
Lou Williams probably has as many clutch highlights against the Steph Curry era Warriors in the postseason this side of LeBron James.
Now, this is all small sample size theater. Cassell, a great player in his own right, will not end up having his jersey retired because he did not spend enough quality seasons with the Clippers to get it there. (Though, who knows, maybe he could be the team’s head coach in the distant future.) Lou will undoubtedly have his touches reduced now that the team has Leonard and George and this will cut into his stats. Lou’s minutes also may go down, and he will not be the go to guy that he has been on the team the last few seasons. This might put a dent in his resume to eventually have his jersey retired.
But if this team has a deep playoff run, it will likely feature some big Lou buckets. Williams has 2 more cheap seasons on the books, and by the time his contract runs out, he will have (at least) 2 6MOY’s under his belt, and possibly be the third leading scorer on a team that might have a championship as well. If the team does gel, it might not just mean that Leonard and George stay long-term, but it might also mean Williams stays and retires a Clipper. At that point, it’d be hard to deny him a spot in the rafters. And retiring the Underground GOAT’s jersey? Can’t think of many things sweeter than that.