ATLANTA – Lou Williams was walking down the hallway of Philips Arena, sporting a long-sleeved Hawks t-shirt and the three-quarter length, cut-off sweats that he made famous during his last couple years in Philadelphia.
There was more to Williams in that moment, though. He was using crutches to make his way down the hallway. On Jan. 18, in a game against Brooklyn, Williams suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He has since had reconstructive surgery that will require 9-12 months recovery and rehab time.
“It is coming along well,” Williams said. “I am about a month out of surgery now. I am still dealing with some mobility issues and just dealing with the injury one day at a time.”
This is Williams’ eighth NBA season and the first real setback he has encountered physically. He did miss a month during the 2009-10 season with a broken jaw, but during the other four seasons when he was in the regular rotation, he missed a total of 12 games.
So injury and rehabilitation is foreign territory for him, as is being away from the basketball court.
“We are being very aggressive with the rehab process whether it is when I am at the game or the practices,” Williams said. “I am just staying in shape and getting prepared to get back on the court when I am healthy again.”
When healthy, Williams is one of the best players in the league off the bench. He was the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award last spring when he led the Sixers in scoring with 14.9 points in 26 minutes per game.
When the summer rolled around, Williams had an eye-opening experience in free agency.
“It was a very quick process for me because it lasted maybe a few days,” Williams said. “It was definitely interesting and frustrating at the same time. I thought I was going to be in a position where I was going to continue my career in Philadelphia. It did not work out that way but it was definitely interesting time for me and I definitely learned from it.”
Sources last summer said the Sixers made three offers to Williams: a three-year deal for 21 million, a four-year deal for $26 million or a five-year deal for $30 million.
The summer before, Thaddeus Young earned a five-year contract extension worth $42 million. Both Young and Williams were the cornerstones of one of the best benches in the NBA the past couple years.
Whether Williams felt insulted by the Sixers' offers or believed he could get more elsewhere he would not say. He did sign with the Hawks for 15.7 million over three years because Atlanta used their mid-level exception (worth $5 million with slight increases each year) to get him on their roster.
“I learned when it comes to making decisions for your family, you just always have to make smart decisions and make a conscious decision,” Williams said. “My whole thing was it wasn’t about money. I wanted to be in a position to be on a team that was going to be successful moving forward and we would be put in a position to win and I would be happy. So those were the things that went into making my decision.”
The Sixers were coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals that went seven games, and Williams enjoyed living in Philadelphia, where his daughter was born. So Philadelphia certainly met his criteria. Things just didn’t work out.
Still, even with the injury, he's happy in Atlanta.
“I love it,” Williams said of being back in his hometown. “I love the organization. I love being in an environment where I am comfortable with the people and where I have a great support system. Things work in mysterious ways. I tear my ACL and I am at home with all of my family and a lot of people who can look out for me so I am good.”
He will be even better when he makes a healthy return to the hardwood.