As fans and analysts, the natural inclination with any trade is to pick a winner. In our minds, someone needs to come out on top. But in negotiations (and that’s what a trade is), one of the first rules is to give the other guy something they want to make sure they believe they have won. Both sides need to feel like they’ve gotten better.
That’s what we have with the Denver Nuggets trading Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets — both sides got what they wanted. It’s not perfect, but both teams think they are better for this move.
Here’s why it works for both teams.
• They got the best player in the deal, Lawson is far superior to anyone else in this trade and bumps the Rockets potentially up with the Thunder/Spurs/Warriors/Clippers as contenders in the West.
• Houston didn’t give up any guys who were part of their playoff rotation or likely were part of their long-term plans — yes the move is a gamble but they didn’t give up much if it doesn’t pan out. It’s low risk for Houston.
• Also former NBA coach John Lucas is in Houston, and he’s a guy a lot of NBA players battling addiction issues turn to for help. The Rockets reportedly have reached out to him.
• This makes James Harden happy; he’s wanted a more offensive-minded guard next to him to relieve some of the playmaking pressure the beard faces. Lawsons’ quickness will help.
• Whether or not Lawson starts, the Rockets’ bench just got deeper.
• That said, I think this is an upgrade for the Rockets but not the massive one that some on Twitter claimed. There are two reasons holding me back. One is Lawson has personal issues to work out — he’s in a California alcohol rehab facility now and faces two DUIs from this year (he’s had three DUIs overall and there reportedly are other incidents). He will face a suspension of some length from the league. Lawson was a mess in Denver, showing up late to practice, not being motivated, and being the opposite of a leader. Lawson’s supporters say that in a new setting and given responsibilities on a contender he will get right and play well. I hope so, for his sake, but he has frustrated every NBA coach he ever had.
• My second Lawson to Houston concern is on the court — playing Lawson and Harden together would be a defensive liability. To me, it makes more sense to continue to start Patrick Beverley still and bring Lawson off the bench, just to make sure they still get stops. Coach Kevin McHale has some versatility and options in his backcourt to experiment with now, but the Lawson/Harden pairing may present problems.
• Denver’s primary goal this summer is a locker room culture change and moving Lawson was a key part of that plan — they see it as addition by subtraction. Even with the non-rotation players they got back, Denver wanted to make this move to keep Lawson away from their young, developing players. Expect a few more moves to follow as Denver reshapes its roster to something coach Mike Malone can work with.
• After that second 2015 DUI, getting a first rounder for Lawson — even one that has some healthy protections and likely lands in the 20s — is an accomplishment.
• Denver also cleared out a lot of cap space, giving them real flexibility going into next summer.
• Welcome to the Emmanuel Mudiay era in Denver. That’s a very good thing, he will be in the mix for Rookie of the Year and grow from there.
• Nick Johnson has shown some potential, and Kostas Papanikoloau is the kind of shot creator Denver needs now. Those guys may develop into something for the Nuggets (if they keep Papanikoloau, his deal is not guaranteed).