When Lou Williams arrived in Los Angeles in the 2017 offseason, he wasn’t sure what was left of his NBA career. He had just been traded twice in the calendar year and he didn’t know what direction the Clippers were heading, or if he would be a part of it.
The Clippers were at a crossroads then, but they found their heart and soul in Lou Will. Over the past four seasons, everyone but Patrick Beverley has come and gone from the Clippers, but Williams has been here, holding down the fort.
He led the team in scoring in 2017-18, earning Sixth Man of the Year and helping propel the Clippers to 42 wins despite a comical amount of injuries. The highlight of his efforts that season was when he dropped a career-best 50 points on Golden State in a nationally-televised win against the eventual champions, despite starting next to Wes Johnson, C.J. Williams, and Jawun Evans. 21 players suited up for the Clippers that season, which featured a massive shakeup with the Blake Griffin trade, and still Williams found a home, comfortable enough with the situation under Doc Rivers that he signed an extension to stay for three more years.
The 2018-19 season brought more big moments, and on a brighter stage, as the Clippers won 48 games and defied the odds to make the playoffs. Williams had a game-winner against the Bucks early in the season and then what ended up being the first true buzzer-beater of his career later against Brooklyn.
As the season wore on, and the Clippers made moves with an eye for the future, Williams just got better. He handily won his second-straight Sixth Man of the Year Award during the regular season and proceeded to add more legacy moments in the postseason, as LA unexpectedly took two games from the Kevin Durant-led Warriors.
But it wasn’t so much the wins that Williams helped collect — it was the attitude he brought to the Clippers. He gave the team an identity as a group that never backed down, that was more than the sum of its parts. He was the vet to the younger players, who called him Uncle Lou, and the calming influence next to players like Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, who brought the fire.
The Clippers became a destination because of that spirit, and much of it could be traced back to Lou Will.
Williams’ role was a bit more limited in the following season with the arrival of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but his impact on the team never diminished. When the Clippers needed a boost after a slow start, Williams would provide it. When a youngin like Terance Mann was working to find his way, Williams was there to guide him.
"It's bittersweet. Lou Will is my vet. He taught me how to be a pro, how to approach the game, how to have the right mentality during the game, good or bad. He always picked me up if things were going bad. It's tough having him gone."— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) March 26, 2021
Terance Mann on Lou Williams. #Clippers pic.twitter.com/ua3ta4Sje0
Even though the Clippers bowed out early in the 2020 postseason, it was the second straight playoffs when Williams proved that he could thrive, that his success didn’t completely evaporate when teams could game plan for him. He had a plus-6.9 net rating and managed to have a positive impact despite his bench partner Harrell struggling.
Then, this season, Williams started to turn a corner defensively. No one would ever call him a stopper, but his defensive rating is currently better than that of Leonard or Ivica Zubac, and he said that he’s been doing more homework and research on that end that he has in the past. Williams was able to execute the scheme and makes plays with his anticipation, most recently collecting two fourth-quarter steals in a win against Dallas.
“I think just being professional and wanting to win,” Ty Lue said when asked about Williams’ defensive improvement. “His main focus is winning, he’s done everything pretty much in this league, winning Sixth Man I don’t know how many times, so now his main focus is trying to win. And I applaud Lou for his effort, every single night.”
It’s too bad that Williams won’t have a chance to win at the highest level with the Clippers, since he has spoken at length about how much that accomplishment means to him.
“I have one thing that I haven’t done in this business — that’s won an NBA championship, I feel like we have a high-caliber team that gives us an opportunity to do that, so that’s the thing that gets me up and gets me motivated,” he said last month.
Maybe Williams’ career will take him to the mountaintop, if not in Los Angeles or Atlanta, then somewhere else. He may not have been a superstar, or even an All-Star during these four years, but he leaves the Clippers as a legend, as “your favorite player’s favorite player” and an inspiration to a generation of hoopers — especially those with his build — who aspire to the longevity Williams has had in the league.
“You’re one of my favorite players” - Quickley to Lou Will pic.twitter.com/r7K9LleQIM— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) January 31, 2021
The Clippers made the decision they thought was best for their franchise. That doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the value Williams brought to this team and what an integral piece he was in this chapter of Clippers history. As Lawrence Frank said in the team’s press release, “He is a leader and a connector, earning the highest level of respect from teammates and opponents alike. He lifted all of us. We will miss Lou and his family dearly.”
My personal favorite Lou Williams moment came after the Clippers lost to the Warriors in Game 6 in 2019, and he and Patrick Beverley were being asked about their defensive strategy on Durant and what they could have done better. Beverley was a bit fiery about the question, particularly since LA’s season had come to an end, but Williams took it in stride and gave a really interesting answer about the Clippers’ plan and their limitations as well as ruminating on Durant’s star power and talent. He was candid, respectful, and funny as hell. He is the kind of player others love playing with because he tells it like it is without jumping down your throat. He’s the coolest guy in every locker room.
I think about one moment from that presser all the time, when Lou said, “I promise we tried.” He gave his heart to this team and helped birth a new era for the Clippers. Even though they didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, Williams tried his damndest. We wish him well with the Hawks and whatever else comes next.