Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak went into the summer with the clear objective of surrounding his team’s young core with a group of solid, stable veterans. Rather than making a run at a big fish like DeMar DeRozan or Al Horford, Kupchak went out and snagged known positive locker room commodities in Luol Deng, Jose Calderon and Timofey Mozgov.
While Deng and Mozgov are expected to play fairly sizable roles on the floor this year, they’ll be just as important to the Lakers as mentors. Building a positive energy is crucial for this bunch considering the terribly negative aura that dogged them during the Byron Scott era, particularly last season. That obviously starts with Luke Walton, but the aforementioned veterans also carry plenty of the responsibility.
Lou Williams, who signed a three-year deal with the team ahead of last season, is another whose voice can be impactful, particularly around the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The 29-year-old enjoyed a decent inaugural campaign in purple and gold, averaging over 15 points per game while connecting on better than 34 percent of his three-point tries. Unlike Deng and Mozgov, whose lucrative contracts are just getting underway, Williams is a bargain at about $7 million a year for the next two seasons.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported back in January that the Lakers would prefer to keep Williams because they see him as a “glue guy.” Of course, that was well before Deng, Mozgov and Calderon showed up. L.A..
They could certainly use Williams’ scoring punch off the bench, but it’s not like they have serious aspirations of actually contending this season, anyway. As was the case two years ago when he was with the Toronto Raptors, Williams is a player better fit to contribute to a winner in need of a boost from the second unit.
The Lakers have appealing options regarding how they approach the situation. It doesn’t look like they plan to trade him before the season, meaning if they do decide to deal him they will likely wait until the deadline approaches. Injuries often dictate the market as the season progresses, and it’s easy to see how Williams’s value could grow between now and February.
There figure to be no shortage of contenders that could use a spark plug like him once that time comes. Lou’s ability to play both guard spots while leading a second unit or starting in a pinch makes him an incredibly useful asset; an asset that would be far more useful to a team actually trying to win games in 2016-17.
Walton has paired Williams with D’Angelo Russell as his starters in the backcourt during the preseason, which isn’t helping anything. The team just committed big money to Jordan Clarkson over the summer, and he’s the obvious guard to partner with Russell now and in the future. This isn’t anything against Williams, it just makes more sense for the Lakers to play their young guys together as much as possible.
The Lakers can afford to part ways with him. Sure, he can be a helpful presence to the young players in the backcourt, but he reportedly wasn’t exactly nurturing to Russell in the first place when the Nick Young fiasco went down last year. Barring some unforeseen circumstance in which the Lakers are actually in playoff contention this season, there really isn’t any reason to keep him beyond this year. Williams’s value likely isn’t going to get much higher than it already is.
The Lakers are Russell’s team now, for better or worse. And they have enough stable veterans already in place to (hopefully) prevent the locker room from falling into utter chaos again. If L.A. is able to flip Williams and his steal of a contract for something better equipped to help them win in the future, they should be jumping at the chance.