The Houston Rockets took a big step towards putting themselves in the first line of contenders for the NBA crown, trading for Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets, which might be real game changes in the Western conference if Lawson is able to clean himself up and bounce back from his legal and drinking issues.
Lawson was arrested for a third time since 2008 and a second time in 2015 on DUI charges, and his court dates aren’t over yet. The point guard, who has played his entire career with the Nuggets (Since 2009) was either going to be traded or released by the Nuggets, looking to move him even before the DUI with tanking and rebuilding on their mind.
The Rockets were one of a few teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to get their hands on him, but offered the Nuggets the best deal. In exchange for Lawson and a 2017 second-round pick, the Nuggets will receive Kostas Papanikolaou and the partially guaranteed contract of veteran guard Pablo Prigioni along with Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson and the future first-round pick.
Prigioni will probably be released before the season begins. Dorsey is capable of giving some nice, quality minutes of defense and rebounding, Papanikolaou actually played quite well before his injury last season and Nick Johnson might turn into a decent NBA player some day. He’ll have more of a chance to develop and prove that on Denver, that’s for sure.
Lawson averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game last season for the Nuggets, who missed the playoffs for a second straight year, firing Brian Shaw in the middle of the season to mostly positive reviews from the players, who never meshed with the former point guard after he came in to replace the highly successful (in the regular season) George Karl.
The starting point guard position in Houston should be Patrick Beverley’s, or at least was intended for him. James Harden gets to touch the ball quite a lot as well, so Lawson won’t be the team motor and main ball handler in Houston. But there’s plenty of ways for Kevin McHale to use him in, maybe even coming off the bench. Lawson has his issues to deal with, so maybe a little downgrade in stature won’t be something too difficult for him to swallow.
So while the Nuggets look mostly like last season, possibly weaker (might still be trying to trade Danilo Gallinari), it’s not that they mind. It’s about developing young players, and identity and losing a lot. Emmanuel Mudiay has all the freedom in the world to dominate the point guard position and if the rebuilding process goes as planned and they get lucky in next year’s draft, the Nuggets won’t miss Lawson for long.
As for the Rockets, sending away two guards in the trade means Jason Terry is closer to re-signing with the team. The Rockets managed to bring back Corey Brewer but lost Josh Smith to the Clippers. Terry isn’t exactly fending off suitors in this offseason, and his best option is going back to Houston, where he did relatively well last season.