When the Houston Rockets acquired Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets last offseason, they hoped that he could immediately step in and help form one of the league’s best backcourts playing alongside James Harden. Like the rest of the Rocket’s season, though, things haven’t gone according to plan, and Lawson struggled to find solid footing with his new team, which eventually led to a buyout.
The Rockets had given up a bit of a haul in order to land Lawson several assets that included four players in Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, a 2016 first-round draft pick, and cash consideration. Many including general manager Darryl Morey felt that the 28-year-old’s acquisition could help put the team in contention for an NBA title following a year where they reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the 1996-97 season. At the time of the trade, Morey said:
He’s one of the best playmakers in the league. If you look at the leaderboard for assists in the last few years or since he’s been in the league, he’s near the top. I think, as we saw, especially when [Harden] played a couple of teams last year, we struggle against teams that really load on James Harden, and we feel Ty will be a lot more difficult for teams to do that.
Lawson was extremely productive in his first six seasons in the league with the Nuggets. He was coming off arguably his best campaign, averaging 15.2 points with a career-high 9.6 assists, which ranked third-best in the league behind Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul and Washington Wizards guard John Wall. At the same time, he had arrived to the Rockets with some off-the-court baggage including a pair of DUI arrests within the last year.
Last July, he was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of driving under the influence, which marked his fourth arrest since 2008 relating to this issue. He was also arrested in Denver in January after driving almost twice the speed limit while under the influence of alcohol. In response, the Rockets levied a two-game suspension for his actions in December. He was also suspended by the NBA in January for three games for driving under the influence of alcohol in July 2015.
It’s a sad truth, but his problems with the law were exacerbated by his disastrous play on the court — not only did he lose his starting job early in the season, he also posted career lows across the board, whether it was points per game (5.8), field goal percentage (38.7), or three-point percentage (33.0). Pair that with his assists (3.4) and steals (0.8) — the lowest since his rookie season — and add his inability to take command of the offense and there was little reason for interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to reinsert him in the starting lineup.
The decision to cut him, in other words, was hardly a difficult one. It didn’t take long for Lawson to land with another team following the buyout as he signed with the Indiana Pacers just two days later. In his first game with the Pacers, Lawson dished out a pair of assists but suffered a sprained left foot that quickly ended his debut after just five minutes on the floor. For now, it’s a minor setback that will likely keep him sidelined for a game or two, but most importantly he looked at home in the role of a backup point guard.
It’s early, but his time with the Pacers could be a prime opportunity for him to establish himself in the final stretch of the season. Lawson will likely have the opportunity to play in the playoffs for the first time in two years with the Pacers currently in the seventh spot at 34-30 just a game 1 1/2 from being out of the playoff picture entirely. If Indiana does indeed make it to the postseason, this would provide a grander stage for the seventh-year guard to show that he can be a reliable player who can still be a viable starting point guard for most teams in the NBA.
The playoffs are a time when things tend to slow down, with there being a heavier importance on each possession and the performance of the bench playing a critical part in the team’s success. If he can play like the competitor he was prior to this season, it could bode well for him in free agency this upcoming summer, helping him earn another long-term contract and receiving the opportunity to play in a prominent role on the Pacers or for another NBA team.
All in all, it’s a crucial time in Lawson’s career and playing well for the Pacers for the rest of the season is the top priority for his future in the NBA. He’s still relativity young and has plenty left in the tank to play at a high level; it’s just a matter of him putting it all together on the court.