Unstatable, Season 2
You know the vibe?
You could forgive Lou Williams for being mad.
Three years ago, or thirty, I've lost track, the Clippers traded a leaving-anyway Chris Paul to Houston for Montrezl Harrell, Pat Beverley, and Lou Williams. Plus some picks and some people who made the money work.
Once the dust settled, the Clippers introduced the new arrivals along at the Clippers' practice facility in a press conference that was broadcast live on Facebook. I watched as Lawrence Frank touted the “Clipper characteristics” of each member of the group and sold the Lob City teardown with effortless pablum.
I'm mostly guessing at the last part, because the only things I really remember from that press conference were that everyone was sitting on stools, and Lou Williams did not want to be there. Lou was coming off a rough run in Houston, where he was shipped at the previous trade deadline. Despite winning a 6MOY trophy the previous season, the Clippers were Lou’s fourth team in three years. He probably could have recited Frank's “great group of guys” speech himself. So he gave short answers and waited for the thing to end. When emcee Kristina Pink announced that the players would be available for 1 on 1s with the assembled media, a hot mic picked up Lou, incredulous, asking: Everybody’s doing a 1 on 1?
You've probably heard the backstory before: Lou was thinking about retiring, talked to his old Raptors teammates about it. His first conversation with Doc Rivers went like this (per Doc):
“I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”
But Doc turned the conversation around around. Zach Lowe writes:
Rivers told Williams he saw a potential match. “He was like, ‘If you got a girlfriend, kids, whatever, get comfortable here,’” Williams says. “‘We are gonna do something special.’”
Lou went for it. And Doc was right. In the ensuing three years Lou went from shoot-first vagabond to the Underground G.O.A.T, the greatest reserve scorer the league has ever seen. He won his second and third 6th Man awards and breathed an identity into a franchise desperate for one. A forgettable career became an iconic one.
It’s largely because of Doc that Lou signed a deeply discounted extension with the Clippers late in his first season with the team, a career year in which he probably merited an All-Star selection. And it has been more or less tacit ever since that the Doc Rivers-coached Clippers were not going to trade Lou Williams. But now, in the last season of Lou’s 3 year, $24 million extension, Doc Rivers is no longer the Clippers’ head coach, and Lou Williams is back on the trade market.
DENI DIARY, a weekly blog tracking Israeli rookie Deni Avdija’s season for the Washington Wizards, by Louis Keene.
And the group he took the hometown discount to play with is completely out the door. DJ gone, Shai gone, now Trez gone, too. The only other holdover from the team that mounted the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history is Pat Beverley — who, by the way, also took a smaller deal to stay.
So you can forgive Lou for being mad. But at his Clippers media day appearance — media day took a week, and was held entirely on Zoom — he just looked tired. The same way he looked when the Clippers picked him up. When someone asked him whether the locker room was still mad about the Nuggets series, he demurred.
“We’ve moved on from last year,” he said. “It’s a fresh start…In order for us to move on, we have to let that go.”
He’s said somewhere before (maybe on the All the Smoke podcast?) that this is it for him, that he’s not interested in starting a new phase of his career somewhere else. If that’s true, the Doc firing — which was necessary any way you look at it — shortens Lou’s timeline considerably. It’s nothing less than his own mortality that he stares down now, the possibility of a title run slipping out of his clutches. “Last year was my best chance last year,” he said with a soft chuckle.
The Clippers enter this season wearing a new uniform of professional detachment, which looks better on them than entitlement did. Maybe professional detachment is what #RevengeSZN looks like when your best player is Kawhi Leonard. But this team has always been best when it embodied Lemon Pepper Lou, and this glib, clock-punching dude waiting to be shipped out for Terry Rozier ain’t him. And it’s strange to see guys say they’re over it. Why does the vibe of this team feel more like late-era Lob City than the beginning of last season?
I'm going to be pausing paid Unstatable subscriptions this week. The reason for this is pretty simple, and basically good: I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to write columns about the Clippers every week this season. I'll still be watching the games, reporting arena news, and corresponding with you all here. I just don’t really want to charge people if I’m not going to be here all the time.
Having said that, I do have positive news for paid subscribers, which is that I've been working on a zine about the Clippers that I hope will be ready pretty soon. (It was supposed to be an offseason project but the offseason was like…three weeks.) You’ll get it free and I’ll throw in some other swag for you as well. I haven't figured out what I'll charge for everyone else; my goal is to just make something cool and recuperate costs. Just make sure if you are one of the newer paid subs that I have your mailing address.
I want to thank all of you for supporting Unstatable (and me). I am so proud of our community of worldly and interested fans, which I hope will continue to grow. I’m feeling kind of like Lou appears to be feeling about this season, the beginning of which frankly could have waited out a vaccine as far as I’m concerned. But that leaves room for me to be pleasantly surprised.
Meanwhile, I hope you’ll follow along with my newest project — a free weekly newsletter tracking Deni Avdija, the Wizards’ Jewish rookie straight outta Israel. It’s called DENI DIARY.
Just a rookie season thing, and the weekly posts will be up at The Forward.
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