Q+A: Ty Lawson
SLAM caught up with the littlest and fastest Nugget.
The Denver Nuggets have had a season of major upheaval. Just weeks removed from a first-round exit to their rivals from Utah, word leaked that the team’s superstar, Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded. With just one season left on his deal, Melo was willing to help Denver find a trade partner or just play out the season and become an unrestricted free-agent. What had become a reliable 50-win team that could boast a seven-year streak of playoff appearances was suddenly in in a state of imbalance and uncertainty, and the roster was filled with several other players who have expiring contracts. One of the few players to have his contract and future in order was point guard Ty Lawson, who had just come off a promising rookie season playing behind the sage veteran tutelage of Chauncey Billups.
Fast-forward to early March and the deal was finally official and in the books. Gone were Melo and Chauncey and replacing them were a quartet of solid players that had allowed the New York Knicks to become relevant again in the Eastern Conference. One of those traded was fellow point guard (and UNC Tar-Heel) Raymond Felton, who looked to share floor-general duties with Lawson. Bucking the popular thought, Karl immediately named Lawson as his starter going forward (a decision that many still thought was only temporary) and has immediately found a balance that includes playing both on the court at the same time. With a 5-2 record since the trade, a 37-27 overall mark and a #5 playoff spot in the West, it appears that maybe the Nuggets will be just fine in a post-Melo world. With some off-days to practice and mesh with the new guys, the 5-11 DC-area-native, Lawson, sat down with SLAM to discuss Melo (his favorite NBA player), the trade, and the team’s future.
SLAM: What impact did Chauncey Billups have during your time as teammates?
Ty Lawson: To be honest, he didn’t really say that much, but he told what I needed to hear. He’s been in the league so long so he knows about the game, how to be off the court, traveling to different cities, making sure you aren’t by yourself. You know what I mean, the little things necessary to be a pro. He didn’t really talk a lot, but when he said something, it meant a lot.
SLAM: Talk about last year, your first in the pros. Was it like you expected? Was it rewarding or frustrating?
TL: It was frustrating losing at the end to Utah, but throughout the whole season, I was feeling good. We were winning and it was fun enjoying the whole experience, but it ended kind of early.
SLAM: Did the early playoff exit change how you approached the off-season?
TL: The preparation was the same, working out in LA. But like when we lost to Kansas (as a sophomore) in the Final Four; that was all we thought about the whole summer, so the Utah series was all I thought about this summer.
SLAM: What was your individual focus during those summer sessions?
TL: Shooting and being more assertive. I feel like last year, I was just giving them the ball because of who they were. Now, I figure, I can play with ‘em and try to make plays myself.
SLAM: Coming back, you immediately entered into the “Melo-Drama,” how was that dealing with that kind of attention to the first half of the season?
TL: It wasn’t really that bad. Melo is such a cool person, off-the-court; he’s like a brother or a friend. He wasn’t being selfish. He is in the second part of his career and wanted to play where he was going to be most comfortable. It didn’t really have an effect on us until these last five or six days leading up to the trade. You could see it on peoples’ faces. You could see it all over the TV. We didn’t want Melo to leave, but we all kind of wanted to get something done.
SLAM: You’ve said that Melo was “your favorite NBA player,” how have things changed since he left for New York?
TL: Well, he’s still one of my favorite players. He’s just a cool person and we have a cool relationship; we joke around. You see how things were in Cleveland after LeBron (James) came back; Mo Williams wouldn’t even talk to him. That’ll never be us. All of us here are good friends; we work together; we hang out; we come back to work.
SLAM: Yeah, it wasn’t like he handled everything wrong.
TL: Yeah, it wasn’t like he stopped playing…
TL: He still came hard every night, scoring 40 or something. It wasn’t like he held his decision away from us, like he didn’t tell none of us. We knew what he wanted to do and everyone supported him.
SLAM: How do you feel that you have been playing now in your second NBA season?
TL: I feel like I was playing a lot better; my stats were up in all categories. I’m growing as a player and still getting better.
SLAM: You were in a very unique position to have Ray (Felton) come to town. There was some early speculation about him getting immediately moved or if you guys could co-exist on the same team. Then Coach comes out and names you the starter. How are you adjusting to a new backcourt mate?
TL: Ray actually hosted me on my visit (to Chapel Hill), so it is all love between me and him. We are all just playing to win. There’s no bad blood, we’ve been hanging out, playing cards and just chillin’.
(At this point in the interview which is taking place in the hallway just outside the Nuggets’ practice court, Karl walks past and is waiting for an elevator. He gestures towards me like “what the hell is this all about?” Earlier, Karl had been jokingly giving Ty grief about only being two hours early to practice and this interview was going down long after the rest of the team had left the facility.)
TL: They are doing a documentary of me.
KARL: Why the hell would they do a documentary about you?
TL: We are going to have a camera following me around, like a reality show.
KARL: (sarcastically referencing Ty’s already legendary status as a gym-rat) But I need you to be focused and you better come to shoot-around prepared, like a professional.
(The elevator door closes on Karl, but you could hear his voice about a half-floor down.)
KARL: You know, we can switch starters!
TL: I know coach, I know. (We share a hearty laugh. But, that joking nature has me even more convinced about how committed Karl is to Ty.)
SLAM: How did that all go down? How was that when Coach named you the starter?
TL: It feels good to have your head coach behind you. I feel really good.
SLAM: What about playing with Ray, coach has already experimented with playing you guys together.
TL: It is kind of like when he played me and Chauncey together. If he gets the rebound or the outlet, he’s going to push. If I get the rebound, I’m gonna push it. Me and Ray are already figuring it out and using each other’s abilities to our full potential. We both make good decisions, so we can both run the team.
SLAM: Do you think you two can co-exist here in Denver for a long time?
TL: I think so. Right now, I think we are playing well, so it can work.
SLAM: Is there more flow or freedom to the offense now without that focus on getting the ball into Melo’s hands?
TL: We just have so many guys that can score. We now have balance and several guys that can score like 16, 18, 20. Not one guy getting 30-something and the rest of us having 8. I like our new guys. We have Ray coming in and (Danilo) Gallinari is better than people think and Wilson Chandler is already one of the best players on the team. We are going to be a really good team.