Lou Williams’s Potential Future and Fit With the Nets

Add the Brooklyn Nets to the list of teams that could be interested in free agent guard Lou Williams, according to RealGM’s Shams Charania. Reportedly joining the Nets as suitors for the Sixth Man of the Year’s services will be the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Toronto Raptors, who traded for Williams last summer and saw him average a career-high 15.5 points per game in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Charania goes on to say that Williams could seek a “three-year deal in the range of $27 million or four years for $35 million”, which could present issues as to any pursuit by the Brooklyn Nets once free agency opens on July 1st.

Williams’s expected asking price would require some salary cap maneuvering from general manager Billy King, with the team limited to the taxpayers mid-level exception. A massive pay cut might not be a great career strategy for a 10-year veteran with an ACL tear in his medical history, but he could still force his way to Brooklyn if he could convince the Raptors to work out a sign and trade. Toronto would have to take back the last year of Jarrett Jack’s contract as the basis of any sign-and-trade scenario, plus some combination of Bojan Bogdanovic (a probable non-starter for the Nets) or Sergey Karasev and perhaps Earl Clark’s non-guaranteed deal, to get to Williams’s desired average annual value of eight or nine million dollars.

Sign and trades are traditionally difficult to pull off due to the variables (and emotions) involved, and this hypothetical would depend on Toronto’s willingness to reunite with Jack, in lieu of any draft pick sweeteners from the Nets (at least not until 2019). Williams would also have to be convinced that a sign and trade with Brooklyn would present his best earning potential, over the seemingly unlimited cap room of the Lakers or Knicks. Whereas those rosters are pretty decimated and dependent upon some success in the NBA Draft and in free agency to overcome bottom-five finishes last season, the Nets at least offer a solid infrastructure of veteran talent, while providing just enough playing time and playoff opportunities to maybe merit a meeting this July.

The Nets’ decision would come down to sacrificing rotation players, if not actual young talent, to bring in Lou Williams on a multi-year deal. Jack played well in Deron Williams’s injury absence but inconsistently for other stretches of the season and, at age 31, doesn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans. Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovic might be the two untouchables of their under-25 talent, though the sub-million dollar deals of Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson may make their ability to match salaries negligible, and worth more to the capped-out Nets as far as depth purposes. Earl Clark’s contract can be waived to save a million-plus, and it’s unsure if Karasev piques Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s interest, after two seasons in the NBA spent with two different organizations.

Though he’d have to share the point guard position with his namesake, Deron, Lou Williams would find plenty of shot attempts and late-game opportunities if with the Nets next season. He’d instantly replace Jarrett Jack’s 12 points and 28 minutes per game and serve as a similar second-unit scoring option, but with a superior three-point stroke and ability to get to the free-throw line. Even while playing with Deron Jack often handled the ball and initiated offense as the lead guard, and though Lou posted a higher usage rate last season, he suffered a huge dropoff in his assist percentage as he regained the accuracy on his jumper. Williams also managed to cut his turnover rate by a substantial margin from his 2013-14 season and turned the ball over nearly nine-percentage points less than Jack, while outpacing him in PER, true shooting, and win shares.

Lou Williams’s ability to score buckets off the bench should again place him directly in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year next season, if healthy and in the right situation. Toronto head coach Dwane Casey found success by putting the ball in his hands and letting him operate out of isolation situations from the perimeter, where his quick-trigger jumper and subtle head fakes allowed him to set his career-best in free-throw attempts and shoot 34% from three. He played in 60 games in 2013-14 with the Atlanta Hawks and largely struggled with his jumper and in adapting to (then-rookie) head coach Mike Budenholzer’s Spurs-ian offense in coming off of his ACL injury. In Lionel Hollins’s first season as Nets head coach he instituted some advanced play sets that tried to get the ball moving to generate open shots, but had no problems with relying on his vets (particularly Joe Johnson) to get a good shot when the game grew late. Lou could play off of Deron Williams as a spacing threat in dual-point guard lineups that would get killed defensively, but he should have full run of a Brooklyn bench unit that struggled to score points last season once Brook Lopez was promoted back to the starting lineup.

The path to Lou Williams signing with the Brooklyn Nets this summer could be a difficult one due to the Nets’ consistent presence in luxury tax territory, but it’s not impossible considering the sign-and-trade option. Nets GM Billy King is familiar with Lou’s game going back to his days with the Philadelphia 76ers, where King selected the high schooler with the 45th pick of the 2005 Draft, and it’s unclear how much the Toronto Raptors want to invest in their backcourt after re-signing Kyle Lowry last summer. There’s a possibility that the relationship between Lou Williams and his former GM increases the likelihood of a sign and trade, just as there is that Charania’s rumor is based solely off of that connection and not on actual insight into the Nets organization. The Brooklyn Nets would surely love to add a scorer of Lou Williams’s ability to their 2015-16 squad; it’s that whole financial aspect that will (ironically) present issues this summer.

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