HOUSTON – Before Ty Lawson texted James Harden with a plea – “Man, get me over there” – he had studied the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the Western Conference Finals and come to a conclusion: Half the time, Steph Curry was coasting.
“Steph Curry needed someone to go back at him,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defense – and then going crazy on offense. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”
Now, Ty Lawson is sitting at a table in a room in the Toyota Center. He’s wearing a Houston Rockets practice top and a smile that keeps coming, and feeling so, so sure of himself again. “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop Steph,' but just make him work harder at the other end. I saw that in the Cavs series too.
“He wasn’t really working at the other end.”
Lawson wanted out of Denver, and ultimately Denver wanted out of Lawson, too. He wanted a contender to compete for a championship, and the team wanted a point guard whom it could trust with the franchise.
Lawson is so gifted – his strength, his playmaking, his defense. Lawson gives James Harden a running mate and Patrick Beverley a perfect complement, and in his mind, he gives the NBA champions and the MVP a problem. Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul and Tony Parker have to guard him. In a point-guard-driven Western Conference, Ty Lawson gives the Houston Rockets a chance to go the distance.
Before the Rockets can turn themselves over to Lawson, they must believe he’s turned himself over to them. They must believe they can count upon him, that two DUI arrests in the past year and a 30-day mandatory stay at a California rehabilitation facility in the summer have been an impetus to take seriously the changes that need to come in his life.
For 30 days at Cliffside Malibu, Lawson had the chance to explore his issues with alcohol and learn to find solutions deeper than calling for a car and driver on a night he’s been drinking. Lawson spent a month with people who had lost everything, who had bottomed out. “It was eye-opening to me,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “I didn’t think alcoholism got that bad. But it does.
“There were people who were pushed into [the rehab facility] by family, and then me, who was court ordered. Just to see that it can get that bad, that you can die. You may not see that as a person until you’re already there.”
Lawson learned “what triggers are” and “what forces someone to drink,” but says this on his public and private problems with alcohol: “I still honestly don’t think I would’ve had to go in there if it wasn’t court ordered. I just made two dumb mistakes. But I did take things from the [rehabilitation facility].”
The Rockets organization connected Lawson with respected counselor John Lucas in Houston, and that’s a relationship that Lawson expects to grow. All in all, can the Rockets count on Lawson? “I don’t think anyone on that team or in the organization worries about that,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports.
From general manager Daryl Morey to the coaching staff, they’ve loved what they’ve witnessed out of Lawson in their brief time together. He’s been to the playoffs in Denver, chased a Western Conference title and a high seeding, and Lawson sees something else here: a chance to be a champion.
For the Rockets, so much of that will move through the partnership of Lawson and Harden. They’re old friends, and Lawson believes he’ll make Harden’s life so much easier. This is the golden age of NBA point guards, and Lawson knows that position is measured the way it is in the NFL with quarterbacks: winning.
“I don’t think you’ve ever seen so many good point guards in one conference at one time in the league ever,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “But you’ve got to win. If you want to be an elite PG in this league, you’ve got to win. You’ve got to be in the conference finals, the NBA Finals. If you’re not winning, you’ll always be a second-tier, or third-tier point guard.”
When those Western Conference Finals were over in the spring, Lawson reached out to Harden and told him to get his general manager working on a trade. Morey had been on the case and finally pushed a deal in late July. Great teams and great playmakers are everywhere in the Western Conference, and the climb back deep into the playoffs promises to be prodigious.
And yet, Lawson is still thinking about Steph Curry and those defending champion Golden State Warriors. He wants to make the MVP work in June. Ty Lawson wants to be in the middle of everything again, and this is his opportunity in Houston, his burden. In so many ways now, there’s never been so much on Ty Lawson.
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