The time has come for the Los Angeles Lakers to trade Lou Williams.
That’s not a statement that I make lightly. I wrote a piece back in December making the claim that Williams is the Lakers’ best player, and that hasn’t changed.
When he’s on, Williams is absolutely electric. He can score the ball with the best of them, firing up jumpers that would be bad shots for anyone else, but for him they find they find the bottom. His graceful floater in the lane is nearly automatic; a thing of beauty that confounds opposing bigs.
Then, of course, there are the fouls. Somehow, game after game, Williams mesmerizes defenders and baits them into reaching in right when he wants them to. He shoots 5.9 free throws per game, which is tied with DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors for 7th in the league when adjusted for minutes and games played. When a play dies, Sweet Lou simply finds a way to manufacture points, and as a result, he’s the Lakers’ leading scorer despite playing just 24 minutes per game.
In some ways, his scoring ability this season and penchant for making tough shots has reminded of Kobe Bryant and has served to ease the transition to a Mamba-less Lakers for a legion of fans. Unfortunately, as impressive as Williams’ season has been, there is simply no denying the reality that it’s in the best interest of all involved for the Lakers to find him a new home before the clock strikes zero on the NBA trade deadline.
Simply put, Williams spending a career year on this Lakers team is like putting premium wheels on a 1993 Nissan Sentra. That’s not to say the Los Angeles will stay in these dire straits forever, but by the time Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and the rest of the young core are up to speed, the tread on the 30-year-old Williams’ tires will have worn thin.
Trading him now, preferably to a playoff contender, would be a good-guy move for the Lakers by putting Williams into a position to succeed while he’s in his prime. It’s a mercy trade for a veteran who deserves to be able to show his stuff on the big stage in the NBA playoffs.
Williams certainly deserves that much.
Of course, the Lakers’ motives to find a deal would not be completely altruistic. Not only is Williams putting up fantastic numbers, but he also has a contract that pays him much less than his true worth ($7 million per season) and lasts through the 2017-2018 season.
That’s a trifecta of value, and at this juncture, the Lakers should expect an appealing young player and/or draft picks as compensation for sending Williams to greener pastures. That’s an impressive haul for a rebuilding team that is short on future assets.
The Lakers also have to consider the fact that, as a bad-shot-maker, Williams’ value would decline quickly if his shooting percentages slip, as they learned the hard way with Nick Young during Byron Scott’s tenure as head coach. Young has been a revelation this season and is headed to the three-point contest this weekend, but for the past two years, his shot abandoned him, causing his trade value to plummet to the point where no one would take him.
That’s a risk they simply can’t take with Williams, who is the Lakers’ most valuable non-core asset. The name of the game is to buy low, sell high and there is no question that Sweet Lou’s value is at its absolute peak.
Moreover, moving Williams now would almost certainly hurt the Lakers’ win total this season. In a tight race to the bottom where every game matters, a few extra victories courtesy of Flamethrower Lou could be the difference between the Lakers having a top three pick this summer and being left out in the cold.
Upping the stakes, the Lakers also get to keep their 2019 first round pick if they land in the top three in 2017, as the pick they owe Orlando from the Dwight Howard trade instead becomes two second round picks. It’s not overstating things to say that the outcome of the draft lottery in May will have a massive impact on the Lakers rebuilding efforts.
They would still need a little divine intervention from the basketball gods in the draft lottery, but dealing Williams now could potentially result in the team acquiring whatever assets they pick up in the deal PLUS a top three pick this summer and a 2019 first round pick.
Even with the uncertainty that the ping pong balls provide, that’s simply too much incentive for the Lakers to pass on. Any way you look at it, it’s time for the Lakers and Lou Williams to regretfully part ways.