Could the Nuggets have received more in return for Ty Lawson?
Maybe. But no one – other than a handful of NBA execs behind closed doors and Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who is somehow the Association’s version of Michael Keaton in “Multiplicity” – will ever truly know. There will always be speculation that Lawson could have, or should have, fetched more. On draft night. The week before. Back in March. Maybe Tim Connelly had overvalued his point guard in the market. Maybe the rest of the league was asking too much, having the leverage all along. No one really knows, nor will they likely say at this point.
In the end, the Nuggets got what they got: Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, a lottery-protected 2016 first-round draft pick and cash considerations. Or, as the venerable Cliff Clavin might define it: “Four guys who have never been in my kitchen,” a late first-rounder and some beer money. Heck, the 38-year-old Prigioni has already been waived (to be fair to player and organization, Prigioni was only included to make the salaries match up).
In simpler terms? The Nuggets got rid of Lawson.
And that’s all that really mattered. The relationship between Lawson and his team was rotten and incurable. Lawson had sabotaged his own value to point of worthlessness; pair that reality with Emmanuel Mudiay’s status as the future of the franchise, and Connelly had exactly zero bargaining power. The trade with Houston makes the Nuggets better, even if it’s only addition by subtraction.
For all the praise that departed with former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, hindsight reveals that he left Connelly with nothing more than a roster filled with middle-tier players and a pair of contracts that could have been crippling. Somehow, Connelly managed to get out from under both. He magically ushered JaVale McGee and his $12 million contract to Philly, and while Lawson’s deal wasn’t necessarily “bad” it became that way at the hands of Lawson himself.
Critics of Connelly will suggest that he blew his chance to receive real value for Lawson prior to hookah videos and additional DUIs. Ironically, some of those same naysayers now believe Lawson should be have been held longer in search of higher returns.
Shy of performing a miracle, Connelly wriggled the Nuggets out from their proverbial rock and a hard place. A new era begins.
Down in Houston, the Rockets unquestionably made themselves better via the acquisition of Lawson. Make no mistake: Lawson always had skill and talent. While the Nuggets desperately needed him to be The Man (a role he never fully seized), Houston only needs him to be a complimentary piece. They’ve already got their Man in James Harden; if all goes well, Lawson can happily serve as the Rockets “number three” behind Harden and center Dwight Howard, both of whom endorsed the trade.
So, it’s a classic win-win.
But there’s another, almost hidden, win in the formula. Quietly, Lawson himself (perhaps with the help of his agent) made this deal work, too. According to sources, the former Nugget ultimately agreed to nix the guaranteed status of his 2016-17 contract. In essence, this creates a nearly risk-free situation for Houston GM Daryl Morey, who will have the ability to waive his new point guard after the season – with zero hit to his salary cap – if Lawson is a bust.
And that puts the pressure on the talented but troubled player himself, which is a good thing. While Houston gets a hedged bet, Lawson has created a do-or-die situation for himself. If counseling and rehab don’t redirect the mindset and lifestyle of Lawson, perhaps $13.2 million will. Lawson, or perhaps Morey, have drawn in a line in the sand: This season is make or break for both Lawson the player and Lawson the person.
Allegiances and hard feelings aside, everyone should hope that Lawson is up for the challenge.