Lou Williams has shot his way into the NBA limelight.
Now a two-time winner of the Western Conference's Player of the Week award during the 2017-18 campaign, the flame-throwing guard is averaging 23.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from the field, 41.4 percent from three-point land and 90.8 percent at the stripe. Those are the numbers of an unabashed offensive superstar who deserves serious All-Star consideration, but they've also made him a coveted commodity during trade season.
Who wouldn't want a red-hot scoring guard like Williams leading the charge for their second unit? As soon as the Los Angeles Clippers make it clear he's available, they'll get a dozen suitors filling up their voicemail with offers of prospects and first-round picks.
But they have to be willing to shop him first, and that's far from a guarantee after the team has climbed out of the Western basement.
"I'm putting my heart and soul into this basketball team with all the injuries that we've had and for us to still have an opportunity to be competitive," he recently explained, per Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints. "I would like to find a home here. I'm starting to bond with these guys. So hopefully this is where I am at the end of the year."
Meanwhile, The Vertical's Shams Charania reported that the two sides are already talking about a potential extension that would keep Williams in L.A. for the foreseeable future:
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Sources: Lou Williams and the Clippers have recently engaged in contract extension discussions, but no deal's formed as sides evaluate positions. Williams went for 50 points against the Warriors in Oakland tonight. He's eligible for an extension during season.2018-1-11 06:15:27
But what if these talks go sour? What if the Clippers cool off and start dropping games, playing down to their overall talent level and falling out of the Western Conference's playoff picture?
If that happens—not a certainty, given the heart this squad has shown while battling through myriad injuries—Williams will be available as a half-season rental with an established asking price. Barring the inclusion of additional pieces or the overtures of teams bereft of opening-round selections, the Clippers will be looking for matching salaries and first-round picks.
So let's operate under the jumping-the-gun assumption that LAC will eventually shop its key pieces and throw in the proverbial towel on the 2017-18 season. In that scenario, who'll be willing to offer those coveted picks, and where is Williams a strong fit?
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Channing Frye, Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn Nets)
The Cleveland Cavaliers need some sort of spark, as this might finally be the iteration of a LeBron James-led squad that can't just flip the switch when the playoffs roll around. They have fundamental issues on both ends of the floor and can't pass up opportunities to improve their defense and the reliability of their bench scoring in one fell swoop.
In most situations, Cleveland's all-or-nothing pool of movable assets would be problematic. But in this hypothetical world where the Clippers are moving firmly into a rebuild, it can get away with offering its most attractive piece and plenty of other parts in order to get its hands on both Williams and DeAndre Jordan.
Williams by himself wouldn't be worth that first-round pick conveyed courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets. Not for a team that could be plunging into a rebuild if James departs this offseason. The same is true of Jordan, given his aging frame and a game that's relentlessly predicated upon athleticism seldom found in a 7-footer.
But Cleveland getting both notable figures would tempt it into parting with that potentially lofty pick, even if the Nets are currently trying to devalue it a bit through in-season improvement and effort. Though the Northeast Ohio residents would also have to part with a key rotation player (Tristan Thompson) and a bit more upside in the form of Cedi Osman, they should be more than willing to do so during what should be an all-in campaign.
The Cavaliers don't have the luxury of waiting for the future while James' long-term decisions remain entirely obscured. They have to fix a defense that ranks No. 29 in points allowed per 100 possessions and, per NBA Math, leaves them entirely outside the typical realm of title-winning outfits:
NBA Math @NBA_Math
Here's how the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers stack up against every team in NBA history (and all NBA champions) in adjusted defensive rating. Only 3 champions ('56 Philadelphia Warriors, '51 Rochester Royals, '01 Los Angeles Lakers) have won a title with a below-average defense. https://t.co/jCPaFv7u7x2018-1-12 16:05:00
That's Jordan's job, since he can still control the interior of a defensive scheme and prevent second-chance opportunities. Williams, meanwhile, would be tasked with supplementing the offensive burden a certain four-time MVP is forced into carrying on a nightly basis.
This might be painful for both sides, given the departures of franchise centerpieces and shots at Luka Doncic/Marvin Bagley III/etc. It also makes all-around sense.
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Cole Aldrich, 2018 first-round pick (via Oklahoma City Thunder)
As Michael Scotto reported for Basketball Insiders, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers have already exchanged trade-season pleasantries over the phone:
"The Los Angeles Clippers proposed a blockbuster deal to the Minnesota Timberwolves involving forward Blake Griffin and center Karl-Anthony Towns, league sources told Basketball Insiders.
"The trade proposal didn't advance past an exploratory call from the Clippers as Minnesota declined, league sources told Basketball Insiders. Minnesota views Towns, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft, as a franchise-caliber player and a vital piece of the future who is not for sale at this time."
We're now operating under another massive assumption—that the Clippers haven't already squandered their political capital with the 'Wolves and prevented their Western Conference foe from even picking up a future call and listening to a different proposition. A Griffin-Towns swap was never going to happen, and testing those waters went well beyond due diligence.
But if the two sides have avoided an acrimonious relationship—and kidding aside, we have no reason to expect anything else—they could find a deal that makes sense for both sides. Los Angeles could give up a half-season of Williams to a squad in pursuit of effective bench scoring while getting back salary filler in the form of Cole Aldrich and a first-round pick likely to fall just outside the lottery.
To be clear, offense isn't the biggest issue for Minnesota's non-starters. Its bench ranks dead last in defensive rating, and acquiring a sieve such as Williams isn't going to plug that hole. But the roster is also filled with middling shooters, and the second unit has only been able to post a 54.6 true shooting percentage that sits at No. 15 in the leaguewide hierarchy.
Jamal Crawford can provide points in bunches, but he's not exactly a bastion of efficiency. He never has been, and that's not going to change during his age-37 season. And other than the veteran guard, the 'Wolves don't boast many contributors who are comfortable consistently creating their own looks. Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica are nice complementary pieces, while Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad and Aaron Brooks don't provide much spacing.
Williams would be a godsend for this team, able to assume a heavy workload that lessens head coach Tom Thibodeau's overwhelming reliance on his opening quintet.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder Get: Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, 2018 second-round pick (31-50 protected)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the few teams that should be interested in acquiring Williams but can't spare a first-round pick for his services.
They already owe a protected 2018 first-rounder to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they're saddled with giving one to the Orlando Magic two years after that first selection conveys. The absolute earliest they could offer Los Angeles a top-30 slot would be in 2022, and that's not exactly going to sway the Clippers. So instead, they're forced to cobble together a package of intriguing bench pieces with upside alongside a sweetener in the form of a heavily protected second-rounder.
To be fair, Terrance Ferguson might as well be a first-round pick. The 6'7" shooting guard is still only 19 years old and was selected at No. 21 overall as a long-term project this past summer. Developing him will take time, and his jaw-dropping athleticism could certainly translate into stardom down the road.
The Clippers likely aren't accepting this deal unless everything else falls through, but that doesn't diminish Oklahoma City's need for an infusion of scoring ability into its occasionally anemic offense. You might not think this would be an issue for a team with the reigning MVP (Russell Westbrook) operating alongside Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but name power hasn't translated into enough points. OKC sits at No. 12 in offensive rating, mustering just 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Oh, and the bench is even worse.
Who's going to create for a second unit that's produced a 104.1 offensive rating? Jerami Grant (7.3 points per game), Raymond Felton (7.0) and Abrines (4.4) are the leading scorers off the pine, and only one of them creates even half his makes off the bounce. A whopping 82.5 percent of Abrines' buckets require assists, while Felton and Grant check in at 28.2 and 75.4 percent, respectively. Felton's mark may offer hope, but not when he's playing only 17.1 minutes per game and slashing 42.3/34.6/66.7.
Williams is unlike anything the Thunder possesses, aside from a contingent of big-name players that shouldn't be logging 48 minutes per contest.
Philadelphia 76ers Get: Brice Johnson, Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Jerryd Bayless, 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Ben Simmons is a tremendously gifted rookie who can get to the rim seemingly at will, but he's attempted roughly negative-three jumpers from outside the painted area during his first professional campaign. Joel Embiid can create shots from all over the floor, but the Philadelphia 76ers have to be careful not to overburden him. Dario Saric, Robert Covington and JJ Redick are all gifted shooters, but they're reliant on setup passes to do their damage.
Philadelphia simply doesn't have a player who can consistently break down a defense with his handles before splashing in a pull-up jumper. No team runs isolations on a lower percentage of its offensive endeavors, and the Sixers' 0.85 points per possession on relevant plays easily places them within the league's bottom half.
Enter Williams, who spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career in the City of Brotherly Love.
The veteran guard uses isolations on 8 percent of his sets—more than double Philadelphia's overall mark—and scores a whopping 1.3 points per possession to sit in the 97.6 percentile. He'd provide something entirely new to this offense, which can sometimes border on predictable and become far easier for the opposition to corral.
Plus, while that lottery-protected first-round pick would be quite valuable to a rebuilding Clippers squad, it shouldn't carry as much weight with the organization it would be departing. Philadelphia already features plenty of youthful contributors, and it can only add so many more rookie-scale players before creating an imbalanced roster.
Markelle Fultz is returning eventually (maybe?), and the Sixers have another additional first-rounder coming in either 2018 or 2019 courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers or Sacramento Kings, depending on how protections shake out. They don't need all these selections, thereby subjecting them to the law of diminishing marginal utility.
No potential trade featured within the confines of this article makes more sense for both sides.
Washington Wizards Get: Sam Dekker, DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tomas Satoransky, 2018 first-round pick (top-20 protected for two years before becoming a second-round pick)
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Washington Wizards still need to improve their bench troops. Even with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky starting to play better basketball (and endearing themselves to alternative organizations if they're put on the trade block), the team in the nation's capital ranks No. 16 in minutes allocated to bench players and sits at No. 17 with a minus-0.4 net rating.
Trading away both Oubre and Satoransky would be painful. Ditto for the inclusion of a first-round pick and a steady starter in Marcin Gortat. Markieff Morris has played well enough in previous seasons that his departure could sting a bit even as he struggles to make a distinctly positive impact on either end.
But if the Wizards could upgrade from Gortat to DeAndre Jordan, add Williams as a one-man wrecking crew for the second unit and maintain some bench upside with the addition of Sam Dekker? Why wouldn't they pull the trigger when the Eastern Conference remains wide open because of the Boston Celtics' youth, the Cavaliers' defensive woes and the Toronto Raptors' postseason history?
The hope here would be immediate success in Washington.
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. would continue leading the charge for the starters, now buoyed by the defensive presence and rim-running ability of the uber-athletic Jordan. Factor in a game-changing bench sniper in Williams, and the Wizards could have the firepower to take charge of the East for two straight seasons and prevent a first-round pick from ever conveying to their trading partners across the contiguous States.
Of course, Los Angeles would be pulling for a more tepid result. But even if the Clippers didn't get their hands on a first-round pick, they'd acquire two youngsters capable of becoming franchise cornerstones and some solid veteran presences to boot.