After days spent in pursuit of the summer’s top free agents, the Lakers have finally come to an agreement with a real, live NBA player. Lou Williams, former Raptor and the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, will join L.A.’s still-developing roster on a three-year, $21 million deal, according to Real GM and Yahoo Sports.
That’s a reasonable contract for a franchise that could use a victory, however minor. Williams made himself essential to Toronto last season with his ability to manufacture offense against tight defensive pressure. His pull-up jumper is a legitimate weapon. When supported by Williams’s head fakes and footwork, its efficiency is bolstered further by turning contested jumpers into clearer looks or potential free throws. Few players in the league sell so hard on the perimeter as Williams—a quality that should help to pull the Lakers’ offense out of some tight spots next season.
The catch in that value is the overlap in approach between Williams, Nick Young, and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. All three contribute first and foremost as scorers, largely requiring the ball in their hands to be effective. For Williams to do what he does best would naturally take away from Bryant and Young playing their game. Should any of the three go without adequate touches, their performance would become more deeply rooted in liability.
Williams, then, is a complicated get for the Lakers—valuable in a vacuum, though less so under these circumstances. One could say that he makes Young expendable if that weren’t already the case. Otherwise, he is an extension of the very skill (creating and making contested jumpers) that the Lakers already had in great supply and the clear liability (defense at nearly every position) that will doom this roster. Williams isn’t to blame for the flaws of the team he’ll soon join. His shoot-first game just doesn’t make for any kind of instant corrective.
That’s fine so long as expectations for the Lakers’ season are kept in check. This is not a playoff team. Los Angeles’s reluctant transition has left the roster so empty in the way of proven talent that all of its primary free agent targets passed on the purple and gold. Bucking that trend in the future will require a pitch to free agents based on more than market appeal and a championship tradition. It takes talent for franchises to separate themselves from others whose money spends just as well, and Williams—redundancy and all—figures into that picture. Huge amounts of cap space will be in play for the Lakers as soon as next season. While free agents won’t be flocking to sign with Williams specifically, they might be intrigued by a cap-light, proven collective of which Williams is a part.
The next Lakers empire won’t be built overnight. It will take patience to mind these transitional years, and smart moves and good luck beyond that. Williams makes for a tiny component in that big picture, though the Lakers agreeing to a tradeable deal for an NBA-caliber scorer makes for an adequate incremental step.