Energy is a funny thing. George Karl talks about it like it’s another player – one of his best players.
If the Nuggets win, it’s generally because they played with a good energy. If they lose, Karl regularly blames the same thing. Practices and games are described by measures of energy. Karl gauges his team and his staff in the same fashion – energy.
With just one day remaining before the team tips off its 2012-13 campaign in Philadelphia, Karl has hinted that a negative energy could be oozing into his camp. It’s the energy of business.
“Business is not the best energy for training camp,” Karl told reporters two days ago, specifically referring to Ty Lawson’s contract negotiations, currently the biggest elephant in the Nuggets’ room.
He called the situation a “distraction,” something that’s never good for a team’s energy.
Unfortunately, Lawson has validated his coach’s concerns.
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be right now,” Lawson said of the contract negotiations yesterday.
In modern sports lingo, that translates pretty simply: “We’re not where I want to be right now.”
In Karl’s language, it translates into bad energy.
The Nuggets are a team built on that very concept – team. The word “I” is dangerous to the model that both Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri have so carefully constructed. Theirs is a concept that goes against the grain in the current landscape of the NBA.
At the same time, Karl needs his North Carolina point guard. Lawson has been referred to many times by many people as the “future of the franchise.” During last year’s playoff series against the Lakers, Lawson’s play gave validation to that tag. It’s speculated that his contract, regardless of when it gets done, will be close to the level of Andre Iguodala, currently the Nuggets’ highest-paid player.
To say that money doesn’t affect the modern player would be irresponsible.
“(The contract talks) probably did (weigh on me today), more than most days,” said Lawson candidly. “I talked to my agent right before I came here, so it was kind of disappointing, but we’ll see what happens.”
Lawson’s energy was revealed.
“I’m in a good situation, so it’s not going to weigh on me either way,” Lawson said, but then immediately offered a contradictory statement. “Right now, it’s weighing on me because I want to get it done now.”
Thud. Feels like a lead balloon tied to a team that’s supposed to be entering the season sky-high, doesn’t it?
Denver is regularly picked to be the West’s third-best team. Some national publications have gone as far as to say the Nuggets could own the conference’s best record. And with Oklahoma City mysteriously shipping off James Harden, one of the team’s “big three,” there’s an even bigger crack in a doorway that some say was previously shut.
This is no time for bad energy.
Then again, this is no time to question Ujiri, either. In just his third year on the job, Ujiri is no stranger to sticky situations. It’s been penned more than once how deftly he handled the Carmelo Anthony situation. The Nuggets came out smelling like roses in a hugely risky scenario, a credit to Ujiri to be certain. He also masterfully orchestrated the trade that brought Iguodala to Denver.
Ujiri also brought center JaVale McGee to town, but perhaps even more importantly, that move shipped off the perennially underachieving Nene. Would it be crazy to suggest that the details of Lawson’s contract are being meticulously handled for a similar reason? What if Lawson doesn’t pan out to be the player that everyone thinks he can be? History says Ujiri isn’t about to get himself into a contract that he can’t move. Perhaps Ujiri is using this time to buy a little bigger insurance policy.
While Lawson shined in the postseason last spring, he hasn’t been entirely consistent over his three seasons in Denver. He can undoubtedly be great, but at times he’s shied away from being “the man.” Both Ujiri and Karl need Lawson to be such a player.
To be clear, nobody’s suggesting that Lawson is akin to Nene. After all, the point guard’s numbers have improved drastically in each of his first three seasons. And to date, he’s appeared to be a solid individual, never acting disgruntled in any way.
Maybe Ujiri is simply trying to provide an incentive for one of his best players during a contract year, knowing full well that the Nuggets can sign Lawson, a restricted free agent, if they so choose when the season is over.
Or, maybe the general manager would like to sign Lawson, improving the energy in Karl’s training camp on the eve of the season, all while maintaining a level of flexibility that’s made him one of the best executives in the Association. A classic win-win.
Ujiri has yet to push a wrong button; there’s no reason to believe he’s going to now. And Lawson has hardly drawn a hard line in the sand. So, there’s reason to believe that this situation resolves itself, perhaps even before the season begins.
But as Karl so aptly pointed out, “basketball is the best energy for a training camp.”
Business is not.