The Houston Rockets finished 56-26 this past season and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, but a rather quiet offseason compared to some of their other peers in the loaded West had them somewhat forgotten. Corey Brewer, Patrick Beverley and K.J. McDaniels were all re-signed, but Josh Smith, a key member of last year’s team, went to the Los Angeles Clippers. Marcus Thornton could provide some scoring punch off the bench, but he doesn’t really move the needle.
That quiet offseason became a whole lot louder on Sunday night, when general manager Daryl Morey swung a deal to acquire the troubled Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets. Morey is always on the lookout for splashy moves to be made, and he finally made one happen this summer with the Nuggets desperately looking to deal Lawson after his second DUI in 2015.
The point guard has to get his life in order if he’s going to be of value to Houston. Lawson was a locker-room cancer in Denver this past season, and that second DUI has him in a rehab program for a month.
But if Lawson is able to deal with his issues and get clean, this could turn out to be a heck of a deal for the Rockets, and one that helps them keep pace with the other stacked teams in the West. Houston did sacrifice a protected first-rounder in the deal, but the rest of the trade was basically just filler in the form of Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Nick Johnson and Joey Dorsey. As of right now, those are all fringe rotation players, so dealing them for an upgrade at point guard makes sense.
With Beverley hurt last season, the Rockets were using Prigioni and Jason Terry as their point guards. While James Harden acts as a de facto point guard anyway, playing Prigioni and Terry big minutes in the postseason wasn’t exactly ideal. Beverley will be back and Terry could be back, but having a hopefully rejuvenated Lawson makes that group even better.
Lawson loves to play at an uptempo pace, so he’ll fit right in with Houston, who played at the second-fastest pace in the league this past season. He’ll take pressure off Harden with his ability to facilitate offense, and a solid three-point stroke makes Lawson a capable threat off the ball. Although Lawson shot just 34.1 percent from three last year, he’s at a tick under 37 percent for his career on 2.6 attempts per game.
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale will have some intriguing lineup options at his disposal with Lawson on board. McHale can play a more traditional big lineup thanks to having Dwight Howard and two young power forwards on the roster, but things could get real fun if McHale wants to play smaller. It’s easy to envision three-guard lineups with Lawson, Harden and Beverley to go along with Trevor Ariza at the 4 and Howard at the 5. Other versatile wings like Brewer, McDaniels and rookie Sam Dekker can be plugged in as well, so again, there will be a lot of options here.
There are no guarantees this Lawson deal will work out for the Rockets, but it was a risk worth taking for Morey with the Western Conference looking better than ever. It could fail in ugly fashion, but if it works out, it could be the move that pushes Houston over the top.