- After weeks of trade speculation, the Clippers and Lou Williams have agreed to a three-year contract extension.
More than a week after the Blake Griffin trade, it’s apparent that the Clippers’ rebuild will be happening on their own terms. With Thursday’s trade deadline nearly 24 hours away, the Clippers chose to hold fast on at least one element of their veteran roster, inking Lou Williams to a three-year extension, as first reported by Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. Williams, one of the NBA’s elite microwave scorers, was thought to be one of the hotter trade commodities available on an affordable, expiring deal. Instead of shipping him out, the Clippers chose to re-up, with the third year of his contract a team option.
Charania reports the extension as a three-year, $24 million deal, with $1.5M partial guaranteed in year three. With this season included, it amounts to a four-year, $31 million agreement.
Williams, 31 years old in his 13th NBA season, is enjoying a career year with the Clippers, averaging 23.3 points per game after the team acquired him in last summer’s Chris Paul trade. His experience and ability to score in bunches and from long range made him a person of interest for playoff teams looking to bolster their rotation with bench scoring. SI reported this week that Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Minnesota all showed interest. But after exploring trade scenarios for the free agent-to-be, seeking a first-round pick or younger prospects, Los Angeles was ultimately unsatisfied.
The Clippers entered Wednesday a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and Williams, who has become a fan favorite in Los Angeles, will be around at least long enough to see it through. Team brass has trumpeted a hard-nosed, teamwide mentality moving forward, and Williams fits that picture, at least for now. Should the Clippers struggle to make the playoffs next season, or even choose to keep selling over the summer, he’ll remain an appealing trade chip to contenders, building in a degree of safety to the franchise’s investment. If L.A. was unable to turn up a desirable return, it’s far more sensible than risking Williams walking for nothing in July.
It’s also a major win for Williams to lock in long-term security as his three-year, $21 million deal comes to a close. Until their skills begin to depreciate, scorers of Williams’s ilk tend to remain valuable, particularly to competitive postseason teams. All signs point to a bear market for free agents this summer, with many teams strapped for cap space after overspending two years ago, in wake of the NBA’s massive salary cap spike. Rather than risk playing out a series of smaller contracts as he enters his mid-30s, Williams instead secures some stability.
Taking Williams off the board should help ignite the rest of the trade market as Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline approaches, with Memphis perhaps set to benefit most as they dangle Tyreke Evans for a first-rounder. What exactly the Clippers do from here remains to be seen, but DeAndre Jordan trade rumors have yet to quiet down and Avery Bradley, acquired from the Pistons in the Griffin deal, could be moved again. Both players are approaching free agency and looking for paydays, adding a level of complication to leveraging deals. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if L.A. continues to move parts around.
The Griffin trade exhibited the Clippers’ new, reasonable priorities: remaining flexible, compiling young talent and collecting draft picks. They’re believed to be eyeing the potentially starry 2019 free agent class, as are many teams. Going all-out to shed talent for cap space and assets might take them too far out of competitive territory to pitch, say, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson on a playoff run. If there’s any takeaway from the decision to give Williams a manageable, movable contract, it’s that the Clippers are unafraid to stay in the middle ground for now.