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Lou Williams says it ‘hurts’ knowing his time with the Clippers is over

Clippers guard Lou Williams controls the ball during a game.
The Clippers traded guard Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks before the NBA trade deadline last week.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Lou Williams wasn’t sure which direction his career was headed when a trade sent him to the Clippers four years ago.

Last week, that feeling returned when the Clippers shipped him out.

Caught by surprise when a trade sent him from Los Angeles, the franchise where his career was revived, to Atlanta, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer off the bench said he held a series of long, emotional discussions with his Clippers teammates and family and friends before deciding to continue playing and hold off on any decision about retirement until the end of this, his 16th, season.

The 6-foot-1 guard was clear: His decision to continue playing with the Hawks is based on the belief “I still feel like I can play at a high level.”

He was also clear, however, that it stung deeply to realize those contributions would no longer come during a Clippers postseason run alongside close friends such as Patrick Beverley, who had arrived in a trade from Houston with Williams in 2017.

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“Man, it hurts, just to be candid,” Williams said on a videoconference with reporters in his first comments since being traded just before the NBA’s March 25 trade deadline. “It hurts. I had some very emotional conversations with those guys after the trade, in the entirety, as well as Pat, you know. Pat called me the other day a little emotional that my locker was empty.

Missing four starters, the Clippers start out strong before fading in a 103-96 loss to the Orlando Magic that ends their six-game winning streak.

“Pat and I were the longest-tenured guys on that group, we were there four years. We were on that [2019] team that expected us not to make the playoffs and we put that group on our backs and battled a very talented Golden State team and when you do something like that, you kind of feel emboldened like you were part of the culture that was being created. I thought a lot of things in place there that will carry on with the young guys that they’ve brought in, from Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] to Terance [Mann] to [Ivica] Zubac — those are guys that we put a lot of heart and just a lot of courage and confidence in those guys, how they should carry themselves as pros.

“We took a lot of pride in that, so for that to come to an end, and for it to be time to move on, that was emotional for us.”

Williams, whose contract expires following this season, seriously considered retiring before deciding to play for Atlanta seven years after his first stint with the Hawks ended after two seasons. Williams played high school near the city, and lives nearby during the offseason.

The Clippers sent two draft picks and cash to Atlanta in exchange for Rajon Rondo, a point guard the team felt was necessary to unlock their offense’s full potential who could also provide the mental toughness gained from winning two NBA titles.

Though Williams was known to have been shopped across the league before the season began, following the Clippers’ second-round postseason exit, in the days leading up to the deadline Williams was described by league sources as one player not expected to be moved.

He anticipated playing out his contract for the team where he’d enjoyed some of the best years of his career at a time when even he thought his career might be over. At 31, he averaged a career-high 22.6 points per game in 2017-18, nearly earning his first All-Star appearance in the process. The next season, he averaged 20.0 points, and while accepting his second consecutive — and record-tying third overall — sixth man trophy, Williams said his career had been given new life with the Clippers after arriving unsure whether he wanted to stay.

A revitalized Clippers squad on a roll avenged an earlier loss by dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks 129-105 on Monday at Staples Center.

His final memento with the Clippers was the game ball he received the night before the trade after a victory in San Antonio during which Williams reached 15,000 points for his career.

“We had some success and we were gearing up for another deep playoff run, a championship run, that was our mentality,” Williams said, “and I thought I would finish the season there.”

As Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said Saturday: “We didn’t want to trade Lou and Lou didn’t want to be traded.”

“Lou made a great sacrifice this year because his role was tweaked a little bit and in especially in a contract year he was willing to do whatever Ty [Lue] asked him to do,” Frank added. “Defensively he played very, very well. So, the trade isn’t like, ‘Hey, it wasn’t about what Lou wasn’t. Our biggest team need we felt was we needed an orchestrator.”

With the Hawks, Williams will wear a new number with a familiar ring for arguably the NBA’s top all-time reserve — No. 6. He joined the team in Phoenix on Tuesday and could play by the end of the week, coach Nate McMillan said.

“It took me a few days to get here because once I arrived, I wanted my energy to be positive, I wanted my experience to be positive and I didn’t want the guys to look at me like I didn’t want to be here,” Williams said. “It wasn’t personal against the Hawks, I just needed some time to figure out what was best for myself at this stage of my career.

“But now that I’m here and like I said, I’ve been embraced, the guys seem as if they want me here, so I’m ready to get back to work. I’m going to make this push and move forward.”


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