With the Atlanta Hawks out of the playoffs following their Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat, their offseason has officially begun as they slowly set out to address a series of looming questions about the future of their team. From free agency to the draft in June, the Hawks have their fair share of offseason work cut out for themselves and will look to take the necessary steps to get back on track.
But before they delve into all of that preparation and decision-making, the Hawks have one important question hovering over them that bares a far deeper magnitude and impact to not only Hawks fans, but also to NBA fans across the globe: Will veteran shooting guard Lou Williams choose to retire this season, and if not, will he return to Atlanta?
This speculation has been an ongoing phenomenon that has continuously tickled the curiosity of NBA fans everywhere throughout the course of the regular season. And following an interview with sports journalist Taylor Rooks last November where Williams openly acknowledged that the 2021-22 season could probably be his last, there’s a strong sense and feel that the three-time Sixth Man Award winner might have very well played his last game in the NBA.
However, to draw up a firm grasp of what might happen with Williams, it’s important to take a look at this from a handful of different angles and see why Williams might want to play one more season or decide to officially call it a career. To do so, I’m going to assess both sets of reasons as to why he should retire and why he shouldn’t, and from there, draw a fair, logical conclusion as to what might transpire and why.
Why Lou Williams Should Retire
The first and most obvious motive for why Williams would retire is simply the sheer longevity of his incredible 17-season career in the NBA. At age 35, Williams has logged in one special run and has assembled a slew of unforgettable experiences over his time playing with a variety of different teams in the league.
In a total of 1,123 games played, Williams surpassed the 15,000-point marker with 15,593, collected 3,789 total assists, and nearly gathered 1,000 career steals (952). Over this incredible stretch, Williams shot a stout 41.9% from the field and 35.1% from 3-PT range, continuously illustrating his elusive, crafty, and original scoring ways he would exploit defenders with both inside and out.
From the three Sixth Man Awards to his name to go along with ten trips to the playoffs (including maybe his most memorable with the Hawks a season ago in 2021), Williams has experienced a fulfilling journey that’s afforded him a vast variety of special moments that many can only imagine of living through over an NBA career.
To add to it, Williams averaged just 14.3 minutes per game this season for the Hawks, marking the first time he’s received less than 21 minutes per game since his 2006-07 sophomore season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Although he was on a stacked Hawks team that balanced out its minute tally quite evenly amongst its scorers, the steep drop adds another layer of doubt to how much Williams could potentially receive elsewhere, especially on deep, championship-caliber teams.
Nothing is for certain yet with Williams. But with his 36th birthday gradually approaching in October, just around the start of the next season, Williams could very well opt for retirement as the influence of time will only continue to impact his ability to garner a role he’s suitable for.
Why Lou Williams Shouldn't Retire
The one thing that has truly amazed me about Williams throughout his lengthy tenure in the NBA has been his evolution and development. Aside from his first two seasons where he didn’t play much, Williams consistently averaged from 10 to 14 points with 2 to 4 assists per game over the first nine seasons of his career. Even after getting at times 28 to 29 minutes per game, Williams was averaging just mid-tier numbers despite playing in one might call the “prime years” of his career. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2014-15 season that Williams secured his first Sixth Man Award honors as a Toronto Raptor, where he averaged 15.5 points per game.
Fast forward two seasons later, when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017-18, Williams put forth his career-high average of 22.6 points to go with 5.3 assists per game in 79 games played, securing his second Sixth Man Award that same season. Mind you; this was just one year before he won the award for a second straight season in 2018-19, after he averaged 20.0 points with 5.4 assists per game in 75 games played, making him and Jamal Crawford the only two players in NBA history to win the award three times.
What this goes to show you here is that Williams has aged like a fine wine during his time in the NBA, only getting better as he’s gotten older. And up until the 2020-21 season, where his minute average fell from 28.7 to 21.6 (he averaged only 11.3 points that season), Williams has still shown that he can play with the best of them in this league and has only gotten better as a scorer since his time in Toronto.
If Williams were to play for a team that was willing to give him at least 20 to 25 minutes a game off the bench, he could easily regain his old scoring form and contribute with 12-15 points per game at the bare minimum.
So, Will Lou Williams Retire Afterall?
Even though he’ll be 36 in October, it’s hard for me to see Williams leave the NBA just yet, and I foresee him playing at least one more season, whether it’s with the Hawks or a different NBA team.
For starters, Williams can still play at a high level. And just because he didn’t get the minutes, he needed to illustrate that this season doesn’t mean he can’t receive the minutes to do so elsewhere with his talent and experience.
But the last two points that are worth addressing come down to the following. The first is that Williams also said in that very same Taylor Rooks interview that “he’s also okay with continuing to play if that’s where it takes him.” So despite all the speculation about his retirement, Williams might still have the urge and drive to play, and if so, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t come back to the NBA for another season.
Moreover, Williams might want to hang around a bit longer to go after the one dream he’s yet to achieve: an NBA Title. Even if that comes with playing a smaller role, he can be there to mentor younger players who are learning the game still.
What does this mean, you might be wondering? Well, look, for example, at what Udonis Haslam does for the Miami Heat. Although he’s 41 years old, Haslam is like a player-coach who will usually get garbage minutes when he steps on the court but is mainly on the team to guide and lead the Heat's youth. Williams isn’t in his 40s yet, but this could be a role he could look into, particularly with a team that means so much to him like that of the Hawks.
The second and final point that’s worth chewing on is that Williams has never earned $10 million per year in the NBA. It’s hard to believe, considering what he’s accomplished, but it’s the one sad truth about William’s career. However, what’s interesting is that Williams’ yearly salaries have only gone up since he first set foot in the NBA. Just to give you an idea, Williams has received $8 million per year in his last three seasons in the league, which just so happens to be the most he’s received to date. Though owners like to penny pinch, Williams could land a one-year $10 million dollar contract should he find a bigger role elsewhere, and that’s something he might want to pursue next season.
In all fairness, Williams has had himself one long career in the NBA. But despite there being a very viable chance he decides to depart from the game, I just don’t think ‘Sweet Lou’ is done quite yet.
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