USA TODAY US Edition
Lou Williams gives the Clippers a ‘Big Three’
The moments left the Clippers inspired and amused.
When Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers peered out his office window in June, he became pleasantly surprised seeing Lou Williams on the practice court. Usually, Williams spends that time vacationing in his Atlanta hometown. When he returned home, he produced workout videos for his teammates to watch. During both instances, Williams left an unspoken albeit clear message to the coaching staff and players.
“I only got three or four years left. I want a real opportunity to win a championship,” the 32year-old said. “I need that energy to carry over to other guys that may have 10 to 12 more years to get an opportunity to win a championship.”
The Clippers have a great opportunity to win one after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason.
The Clippers’ fortunes, however, also rest on Williams. Without George because of offseason surgery on his left shoulder, Williams has helped the Clippers still have a dynamic duo. Whenever George returns, probably sometime within the next month, the Clippers expect Williams to help them morph from a team having a dynamic duo toward having a so-called “Big Three.”
Through the Clippers’ first three regular-season games, Williams has averaged 22 points while shooting 47.6% from the field along with 5.7 assists, thanks to crafty playmaking, peak conditioning and unyielding hustle. Williams fulfilled this job description through 14 NBA seasons on both playoff contenders and rebuilding teams with the 76ers (2005-12), Hawks (2012-14), Raptors (2014-15), Lakers (2015-17), Rockets (2017) and Clippers (2017-present). Since his offseason workout, Williams has brought the same mentality knowing this might be his last chance to win a title.
“Some guys have to go on a journey first. Then all of a sudden, it is time for them,” Rivers said. “Just watching Lou’s seriousness and how he has approached this year, you feel that. It’s time. It’s been great to see.”
The Clippers saw those signs as early as this summer.
About a month after the Clippers pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers played pickup games at their practice facility in May and June. To reduce any resentful feelings for returning to Atlanta, Williams recorded himself completing running drills in his own gym. He then sent those videos to the team’s group text message chain called “Just Clips.” He asked his teammates to do the same.
“He’s sending a message to get ready,” Rivers said. “It’s a good message. It’s a visual message. It’s funny. Sometimes you can do things in jest. I think he was doing it for fun so everyone could laugh. But I think he was doing it to tell everybody there is no way I can be the oldest guy and still be in better shape than you. That was the message.”
Williams delivered more messages once camp started.
Williams matched up with Leonard frequently during scrimmages, and he used that time to mark his territory. In portions open to the media, Williams often went one-onone against Leonard and scored. Williams even stopped Leonard on a handful of possessions. After one scrimmage, George boasted to Williams that he could not do that to him once he returns. Williams guaranteed he would. As an amused
Rivers observed, “Lou just talks and backs it up.”
Yet Williams does not seem consumed with climbing the Clippers’ hierarchy or padding his statistics. That has happened naturally with how he plays. That has Rivers openminded on occasionally starting Williams or keeping him as a reserve, a role that has garnered Williams the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award three times (2005, 2018, 2019). Whenever Rivers has outlined the possibilities, Williams defers without complaining.
“Whatever is required for the team, I think it’s important for us to buy in and do it,” Williams said. “I don’t really care. But can we put that to bed that I asked to come off the bench? It’s just that nobody has asked me to start. I hate when people say, ‘You ask to come off the bench so you can win awards.’
No I don’t. That’s a ridiculous idea. But I do whatever is required for the team.”
What is required for Williams? Nothing other than sharing ball-handling duties with Leonard, running countless pick-and-rolls with Montrezl Harrell and scoring by converting frequently at the free throw line, at the basket and behind the perimeter. Williams appears ready.
“I don’t know how many cracks I’m going to have at winning a championship,” Williams said. “I feel like we really have a good group. I don’t want that opportunity to go to waste because our mentality is not sharp. I’m just doing my part to make sure everybody is on the same page and the competitive level is there. We don’t take days off and we compete.”