NBA Sunday: Williams Helps Atlanta Move On
Lou Williams Helps Atlanta Move Past Joe Johnson Era
It doesn’t often happen that a player starts zero games, yet leads his team in scoring, but that’s exactly what happened with Philadelphia 76ers guard Lou Williams last year. Well, he’s Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Lou Williams now, thanks to a bit of a dramatic free agency period this offseason, but a change in team shouldn’t come as a surprise for a player who was clearly ready for a bigger role somewhere else.
Don’t think for a minute that he enjoyed free agency, however. Some players love the process of getting wined and dined, exploring all options, and eventually settling on a suitor. But not Lou Williams.
“It was stressful for me,” he told HOOPSWORLD. “I don’t know about the other guys who were free agents, but I’m a creature of habit and I like to keep comfortable. I just wanted to get into the situation I was going to be in. Free agency only lasted a couple of weeks for me because some guys like me just want to get to one place and play, while other guys like to move around and travel a little bit.”
In fact, it wasn’t really Williams’ plan to even leave Philadelphia, but when it became clear that the Sixers could get a more short-term deal out of free agent shooting guard Nick Young, they let Williams walk. Now he’s in Atlanta to help the team move on from the Joe Johnson Era, which ended when he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the summer.
“The main thing was that [Danny Ferry] said we weren’t in rebuilding mode. We’re in restructuring mode, which I feel like is a great terminology,” Williams said. “We’re losing Joe Johnson and shaking things up a little bit, but we still have the pieces to compete in the East.”
Not everybody will be completely convinced of that, but Williams is only one of several new pieces the Hawks have added to help make up for the loss of the six-time All-Star. Williams might be the best of them, but he’s not the only guy on this team that score.
“Joe is an extremely talented guy, but when you bring in a strong group of young guys that are hungry to play, that’s the same effort you’d get with Joe on the floor,” he said. “With [Atlanta] bringing Kyle (Korver) in, myself, John (Jenkins), Anthony Morrow, and the other guys they brought, I think we’ve still got a good chance.”
And let’s not forget the fact that Atlanta has some other really good players left on the roster, plus enough cap space next summer to make a run at another big-name player or two.
“We have two extremely athletic bigs—an All-Star in Al Horford, and a guy who I think should’ve been an All-Star in Josh Smith. Jeff Teague is starting to come into his own as a young point guard, and if you throw me in that I feel like we’ve got the opportunity to win some games.”
It’s true that they will, in fact, “win some games,” but how many games is up for debate. The Hawks will have a tough time squeezing into the Eastern Conference playoff picture next season, but hardly anyone disagrees that the Johnson and Marvin Williams trades were not good things for the long-term health of the franchise. Adding Lou Williams should be a good thing for at least the next three seasons, as well, and it’ll be nice to see him given the opportunity to start. Any team would love 15 ppg off the bench, but it’d be pretty nice in the starting lineup, too.
For Williams, who also just so happens to have grown up in Snellville, Georgia, that’s all he can ask for.
“I’m excited to be home. I’m excited to be an Atlanta Hawk,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for me, and I’m blessed to be able to continue my career in my hometown.”
Malcolm Thomas Looking to Crack Bulls’ Training Camp Roster
Summer League this year went pretty much the way everybody expected it to, with talented guards like Josh Selby and Damian Lillard dominating competition in Las Vegas, and most of the other high draft picks and experienced sophomores doing the rest of the damage out there in the desert.
But there was one relatively unknown player in Vegas who popped up seemingly out of nowhere to lead the league in rebounding: Malcolm Thomas, who spent last season in the D-League, mostly with the L.A. D-Fenders and put up four double-doubles in four Vegas games. By the end of the week, Thomas had everyone buzzing about the inevitability of a camp invite.
Of course, he’s gotten a camp invite before but didn’t make the regular season roster. There is always the fear something like that could happen again with the Bulls or another team that might bring him to training camp.
“It’s disappointing, but I was with the Lakers last year and they were a veteran squad,” Thomas told HOOPSWORLD. “It wasn’t as disappointing as it would’ve been if it was a younger team. They were kind of set on where they were headed.
“I just want to play basketball,” he added. “I want to play hard for a team. I want to make a team.”
Thomas did make a team last season, albeit briefly, but his short time in San Antonio were relatively uneventful. He logged only 15 minutes in three games, but he was reunited with college teammate Kawhi Leonard, who had a considerably more successful rookie season.
“We were roommates in college, and it’s a good feeling to see my teammate do so well in the NBA,” Thomas said. “I think he’s going to do even better next year.”
But what about Thomas himself? Is he good enough to not only make an NBA team, but potentially crack a rotation somewhere? The only way we’ll find out is if he’s given the opportunity. He scores well, plays with a ton of energy, and obviously rebounds and defends at a professional level.
Actually, that sounds quite a bit like a characteristic Tom Thibodeau player. The Bulls are cash-strapped and in need of a few more players to round out their roster, so someone who won’t command big bucks and is already on their Summer League roster seems like a reasonable fit, especially when he’s already the kind of player the team typically loves.
“I’m a defensive guy, and [the Bulls] are a defensive team, so I feel like it’s a perfect match. You never know in the NBA, but I’m going to work hard and hope that I make it.”
Even if he ends up back in the D-League, however, Thomas is prepared to keep working at his dream.
“I probably won’t be too upset because playing basketball is a blessing,” he said. “I never thought I’d be at this point when I was younger, so just to be here is good enough for me.”
But he is good enough to make a team. Anybody who watched him play in Las Vegas knows that’s true, so while he’s still waiting to hear back from teams about a camp invite, it still seems inevitable that he’ll get one from some team somewhere, with the Bulls a reasonable and even likely fit.
Almost a year ago, 88 former D-Leaguers started the 2011-2012 season on NBA rosters. Thomas should help push that statistic even higher in 2012-2013. That, at least, is what he deserves.
USA Basketball Kicks Off Sunday
We’ve watched plenty of exhibition basketball the last several weeks, but on Sunday morning at 9:30am ET, the USA Men’s Basketball Team will finally see their first official action against Tony Parker’s France team.
France is one of the more impressive Olympic teams in terms of NBA talent, with not only Tony Parker but Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Ronny Turiaf, and Kevin Seraphin all on the roster. Joakim Noah would’ve been there, too, if his ankle injury weren’t lingering the way it has been since a nasty sprain in the Bulls’ first-round series loss to Philadelphia back in the spring.
In any event, it should be a good test for the U.S., even though the line on the game has them as 25-point favorites.
According to Kobe Bryant, the strategy is going to be shut down Parker and hope that everything else just falls into place.
“We’re just going to try and swarm [Parker],” Bryant told ESPN.com. “Surround him. Keep bodies in front of him at all times.
“[France is] going to try to slow the tempo down as much as possible,” he added, pretty much spelling out both teams’ game plans in two sentences.
The game will be on NBC this morning, and is just the first of many entertaining USA hoops contests to come as Bryant, LeBron James, and Co. strive to take the gold in London.