ClipperBlog is running a series called “Summer Reading” – tidbits, advice and (ideally) reading material for each member of the Los Angeles Clippers. The hope being that players return next season armed with newfound knowledge, improvements to their skills and emboldened by their summer studies. Because knowing is half the battle.
Reading Material: Ace in the Hole by John Updike
Mo Williams is at a bit of a career crossroads. If he accepts his player option for 8.5 million this year, as he says he will, Mo will be a 30-year-old guard on an expiring contract, gunning literally and figuratively for one last long-term deal. Although his stats last year were nearly identical to his career averages across the board, the league-wide perception of Williams largely changed. By coming off the bench almost exclusively for the first time in six seasons, Williams drew favorable comparisons to guys like Jason Terry and Lou Williams — scoring guards who don’t necessarily have a positional home.
Although Williams flourished in the role for a good portion of the year, he never seemed to fully embrace it off the court. Williams still considers himself a good starting point guard who just happened to play behind the league’s best in Chris Paul and a possible Hall of Famer in Chauncey Billups in what was an incredibly jumbled backcourt. With Paul still in tow, Del Negro back another year, and Eric Bledsoe emerging, Williams once again will find himself in a tricky situation. How do you prove you’re worthy of being a starting point guard if you don’t ever get to, uh, start? Or even really play the position?
Which brings us to our reading. The short story “Ace in the Hole” begins with the main character getting fired, similar to Mo’s situation of being replaced by Paul and Billups. Ace, the protagonist of the story, is a former high school basketball star who struggles to adapt to life without the glory and recognition he once enjoyed on the court. As he slowly becomes more and more forgotten as he’s out of the spotlight (a newspaper attributes his all-time scoring record to another player), Ace attempts to recreate the glory in other ways, which ultimately end up unfulfilling. Instead of focusing on his wife, child, and career, Ace brushes them aside and slips into a reminiscent state, imagining his high school friends circling around him as the story comes to a close.
I want Ace to serve as a cautionary tale. Williams shouldn’t be infatuated with being what he was in the past, because he can be great right now. We saw it at times last year. Williams can look to improve upon that, or he can chase the feeling of being a starting point guard again. Accept or decline — that’s the option Williams is faced with.
Williams is one of the Clippers’ best scorers and shooters, and he’s a gamechanger when he has it going. If he accepts both his player option and his redefined role, Williams can be the Clippers’ ace in the hole.