Ty Lawson Can’t Escape Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson has a perception problem. The 29 year old tested positive for alcohol on three separate occasions, according to the Denver Post. Before his private life became public one more time, Lawson was thought of as an alcohol abuser not smart enough to get a designated driver, and perhaps, Lawson was a straight up alcoholic in denial. Nuggets President Josh Kroenke told Yahoo’s Marc Spears in July of 2015 that Lawson came to practice inebriated, implying liquor was his drug of choice.

“The problems had been there for several years, going back to when we were having a lot of on-court success. There were just a lot of times where you were at practice and you just know. You could smell it.”(Josh Kroenke, Nuggets President)

In response, Lawson said, ” I did my job. I wasn’t a disappointment.”

Ty Lawson wasn’t a disappointment after winning the NCAA title in 2009. He was a mid-first round pick. Undersized for a point guard (5’11”), he was a combo guard who had the know how to organize a team. His first two years in the league, he was a 50+% shooter. That dipped the next two years when he shot 48.9% and 46.1%. A year ago, in which turmoil surrounded Lawson, choking away his career, he hadn’t been able to put the ball in the hole consistently enough. In Houston, he was a sickening 38.7% shooter. He was a little bit better in Indy but he only played 18 minutes a game. The 9.6 assist Ty Lawson of 2014-15 had been buried so far beneath the ground everyone forgot who Ty Lawson used to be. Instead, they are focusing on what they see right now.

What they see right now is a player who cannot give up alcohol, even when ordered to, even when faced with public shame.  Like a recalcitrant child, Lawson has to be dragged back into court to explain himself. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest because of (3) failed sobriety tests and a failure to complete his community service commitments. Perhaps he lacks self-awareness. This isn’t Adam Silver and NBA justice we are talking about here. This is real life. Judges don’t like it when they give orders and those orders are ignored. They think they are being played.

Last summer, a free agent, Ty Lawson was a spectator as all the unrestricted A-level talent swooped up big money. No one wanted Ty Lawson on their team. The interpretation was pretty simple. Teams didn’t consider Lawson a starting point in the league. His stock took a nose dive; his value was shrinking by the minute. He was a cautionary tale: don’t take your career for granted. And then the Kings rescued him by offering him a  one year contract.

Of course, a lot of what has happened to Ty Lawson he is responsible for. He allowed an off the court narrative to define his on-court identity. Mention Ty Lawson in a sentence and you automatically talk about his drug of choice: alcohol. And his lack of discipline. Two DUI arrests within six months of one another speak to a problem no NBA team wants to deal with. Teams could manage the particulars if Lawson’s talent was extreme but Lawson, even in his greatest season- 15.2 points, 9.6 assists- was a good player, not a great one.

It began unraveling for Lawson when he was stopped in Los Angeles in 2015 for speeding and then he failed a field sobriety test. A similar incident occurred six months earlier, in January, in Denver. In 2012, he was on the wrong end of a driving infraction and he was cited for careless driving and driving with a restricted license. In 2013, he was arrested because of domestic violence related harassment.

When Chauncey Billups said that Lawson did not exhibit, and perhaps, did not possess the leadership intangibles needed to run a team, that woke a lot of people up. Billups doesn’t speak often in the negative. Billups unblemished character, as well as his experience with the point guard/leader position, gave him the credibility and authority to say what many were thinking but were keeping silent about. Ty Lawson is wrecking his career. He is too old for this kind of behavior.

The pressurized bubble of the NBA can twist the outcome of a NCAA champion and Bob Cousey Award winner and ACC Player of the Year. Once upon a time, Ty Lawson seemed to have everything.

But will everything be reduced to nothing when he makes his court date on March 22nd in Denver? As a requirement of his probation, Lawson was supposed to quit drinking; he agreed to the terms. The court randomly tested him and he failed which was the purpose of the test in the first place. To monitor his ability to discipline himself. Lawson was also supposed to complete 48 hours of his community service and have 52 hours of therapy. The community service was punishment for his crime and the gift of not going to jail. If his probation is revoked, the calculus changes.

For the ordinary, probation violations lead straight to lock up. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.00. But Lawson isn’t ordinary. He is a wealthy NBA player. Will a different form of justice be applied than say if he was a drunk who hauled trash for a living?

Lawson defended his reputation last summer when he was looking for a job.

“I’m not a person out here like everyone thinks that I’m drunk all day. No, I don’t do that. A lot of my friends, we go out and celebrate. But I’m not that person in the morning getting drunk before practice. I think there is a big misconception about what everybody thinks.”  (Lawson to ESPN)

Admitting that he likes a party is in itself what makes NBA execs nervous, considering his documented history of getting stopped by the police and arrested. Whether Lawson wants to admit it to himself or not, he is a risk. Alcohol is a problem; his history says so. And worse, he is almost 30. He should know better.

The NBA is a profession in which stress under pressure is the job description. The mixture of stress and stress relief and the magic elixir of alcohol has everyone falling into their stereotype lanes. NBA players are investments. Lawson is ruining the financial investment. No. NBA players are human. They need our help.

Empathy or tough love aside, NBA general managers have always been in the prediction business. They base a lot of their decision making on metric data and gut feelings. The metrics pointed to a Ty Lawson decline in 2015-16. Out of 80 point guards, Lawson was ranked 79th, measuring on-court impact. The year before, he was ranked 19th. That is a precipitous fall.

Where exactly does Ty Lawson go from here?

Court first. A tongue lashing by the judge and his lawyer trying to save Lawson from jail.  Maybe jail is what Lawson needs. He is free falling down the hill without anyone pushing him. He doesn’t realize he is reaching the bottom faster this way, worse than if he ripped up his ACLs. If he can’t save himself, a judge just may have to intervene on his behalf.

This season Lawson is averaging 9.3 points which is an uptick to last year’s 5.7 but far below his 15.2 points of 2014-15. He is a horrible three point shooter, 29%.  He is the 25th best point guard, in terms of on court impact, so he has been able to turn his career around and show he is valuable (Real Plus-Minus). However, his decision making to continue drinking when the courts forbade him to points to a reckless personality that many GM’s don’t want to trust.

Lawson is on a one year deal in Sacramento. His boss, Valde Divac, used as an excuse (that no one believed) that the trading of star DeMarcus Cousins was all about the character test.  Take Vlade at face value. Will that same test be used to judge Lawson in the negative so this is his last year in Sac town?

On the other hand though, can a humbled Lawson- he needs to put his arrogance aside, these are desperate times- convince teams to hire him again? If you are in the camp that believes a person is their behavior, what they do is who they are, than Ty Lawson just delivered a strong message to NBA GM’s: I can’t handle this.




photo via llananba