As the days go by, the Ty Lawson trade is looking more and more like a bust for the Houston Rockets. Over the span of 18 games, Lawson went from starting alongside James Harden to a sixth-man role to barely playing at all. In his last five games, the former Tarheel played a total of 67 minutes, including an embarrassing DNP-CD during a OT win over the New York Knicks on Nov. 29.
Even though Kostas Papanikolaou (who was released by Denver in August and then brought back in November) and the Rockets’ protected 2016 first-round pick are the only assets the Nuggets still possess from the Lawson trade, they appear to be the winners of this past summer’s blockbuster by default.
Meanwhile, the Lawson saga in Houston appears to be headed for another turn, as Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reports the club may be ready to move from their prized offseason addition.
“The Rockets have been sniffing around the league for deals and there is a belief among other teams that Lawson could be had in trade, and had cheaply. Lawson is owed $12.4 million this season with the final $13.21 million of his deal being fully non-guaranteed.”
The upside to acquiring Lawson is he’s a 28-year-old speed demon who averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 assists, while shooting 36.9 percent from deep, during his six seasons in Denver. Additionally, his non-guaranteed 2016-17 salary allows potential suitors to take a one-year flier and cut bait after the season if things don’t work out.
The potential obstacles to Houston finding a taker are that this era’s crop of point guards is the deepest its been in a long time. There are few teams in need of a floor general, and some of the clubs that could use one (Phoenix, Indiana, Dallas) would be a poor fit. Also, there’s also the off-the-court baggage that Lawson carries with him. Lawson’s two DUIs led to his exile from the Rockies, and he would need a good support system to help keep him out of trouble.
So, who should be interested in acquiring Lawson’s services?
With center Rudy Gobert out indefinitely with a left MCL sprain, the more immediate need for the Jazz is finding some size up front. However, the offseason loss of Dante Exum to an ACL tear still leaves a void at the point guard spot.
Trey Burke and rookie Raul Neto, Exum’s replacements, are contributing 14.5 points and 4.7 assists collectively. Utah is also dead-last in PACE rating (94.7) and 16th in offensive efficiency (100.8), per ESPN’s Hollinger stats. In other words, the Jazz could use someone like Lawson to push the tempo and give the team a scoring boost. Even with his score-first mentality, Lawson is still a better facilitator than Neto or Burke. Plus, the Jazz could let Lawson walk after the season once Exum’s return nears.
The trick will be finding the contracts to make a deal work financially. The only players on Utah’s payroll making close to Lawson’s $12.4 million salary are Gordon Hayward ($15.4 million) Derrick Favors ($12 million) and Alec Burks ($9.4 million). The first two are likely off-limits, while Burks is in the first year of a four-year extension. Still, the Jazz backcourt is going to be pretty crowded once Exum comes back, and Utah’s grip on the seventh seed in the West is bound to loosen as the injuries pile up. Houston has the size and talent to fill Utah’s needs. It’s just a matter of what Utah is willing to give up to get it.
With Derrick Rose’s constant health concerns, the Bulls need an insurance plan in place in the event another catastrophic D-Rose injury. In the past, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks have both done a suitable job of filling in for the former MVP. However, Hinrich is 34 years old and dealing with his own durability issues (currently nursing a bum hip), while Brooks is struggling to beat out E’Twaun Moore for playing time lately.
While expensive, Lawson would represent an upgrade over the triumvirate of Brooks, Hinrich and Moore. He could provide an offensive spark for a Bulls team scoring just 98.9 points per game while giving Chicago a starter-quality option if or when Rose goes down.
In return, the Bulls have a plethora of big bodies up front that could fill Houston’s current need at power forward. Taj Gibson is a talented reserve who could thrive in a starting role. Another possibility is Pau Gasol, who is having a down year by his standards (14.4 points, 10.8 boards, two blocks) and doesn’t appear to be a great fit in Fred Hoiberg’s scheme. The Rockets have kicked the tires on a Gasol deal in the past, and he’s the kind of big name on a reasonable contract ($7.4 million this year, player option worth $7.7 million next year) that would intrigue Houston GM Daryl Morey.
The Nets are stuck at a bit of a crossroads. They have the second-worst record in the conference at 5-13, but can’t afford to tank because they owe their 2016 first-round pick to the Boston Celtics. However, the roster, as it’s currently constructed, isn’t good enough to compete, even in the East.
After deciding to move on from the Deron Williams era over the summer, Brooklyn has been trying to get by with Jarrett Jack as its starting point guard. To his credit, Jack is posting career-highs in points (14 points per game), assists (7.1) and rebounds (4.4), but the Nets are going to need an infusion of talent to get out of their current rut.
The problem is, with few assets and even fewer future draft picks, the Nets don’t have much to offer in a Lawson deal. Andrea Bargnani would do little to cure Houston’s defensive woes, while Brooklyn would be foolish to part with key pieces like Thaddeus Young or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for a one-year Lawson rental.
Still, of the players rumored to be on the block, Lawson is among the most talented. If Brooklyn is serious about salvaging this season, they may want to give Morey a call to see what it will take to ship Lawson to the Eastside.