For a split-second, Ty Lawson thought his wish had come true. He was going to play for the Indiana Pacers.
On the night of the NBA draft in 2009, Lawson was gathered with his family, waiting to hear where he would begin his career. Pacers president Larry Bird had shown serious interest, and Lawson was anticipating hearing his name called when the Pacers' pick was announced.
When NBA commissioner David Stern stepped to the microphone and said, "With the 13th pick, the Indiana Pacers select Ty ..." Lawson and his family started to jump up.
And then Stern said, "...ler Hansbrough."
It was that close. Lawson had been Bird's second choice for the pick, ultimately choosing one player from North Carolina's NCAA championship team over another.
Nearly seven years later, Lawson comes to the Pacers as a free agent, striving to resurrect a stalled NBA career as a backup point guard on a team that needs his skill set. For the final 19 regular season games, he'll come off the bench and bring speed, tempo and distribution skills to a team that has more hybrid guards than point guards.
"I think it will be a good addition," said Paul George, who looks forward to running with Lawson in some rotations. "He'll change our team up, change our versatility up. Add some experience to our team.
"It's an underrated pickup for us."
Lawson wound up being drafted 18th by Denver in 2009, and enjoyed eight successful seasons with the Nuggets. The best of those, statistically, was during former Pacers assistant Brian Shaw's 141-game run as a head coach. Lawson was averaging 10.1 assists for Denver at the All-Star break last year, tied for first in the NBA, and finished the season averaging 9.6 assists and 2.5 turnovers – a nearly 4-to-1 ratio. He also was averaging about 18 points at the time.
He'll play in a similar offense under Pacers coach Frank Vogel, pushing the tempo and operating off picks-and-rolls in the halfcourt. He looks forward to it.
"I thought it was a good fit," Lawson said. "I guess our players (in Denver weren't) conducive to his offense. I played well in that system."
Lawson's trade to Houston was regarded as a fresh start for him, but it didn't work out. He and James Harden were asked to share backcourt duties, and the chemistry failed. Kevin McHale was fired after 11 games, Lawson was sent to the bench to play with the second unit, and he never gained his footing.
Now he gets a second chance at a second chance, and looks forward to re-establishing himself in a contract year. He says he had offers from four or five other NBA teams, but chose the Pacers because he believes they need what he has to offer. He already knows George, Jordan Hill and George Hill, and expects to find chemistry in the locker room as well.
"It's a (19)-game audition," he said. "Also, we have a chance to win. The East is wide-open. From the third to the 12th seed, everything is jumbled together. We can definitely make a lot of noise going forward.
"I can't wait to have the ball back in my hands."
Vogel said he's not surprised it didn't work for Lawson in Houston, but thinks it will with his team. But that's not to say Lawson will get to dominate the ball.
"He's going to have to play both (ways)," Vogel said. "It's not a one-man show out there, we've never been that way. We're certainly going to put the ball in his hands a lot, he's very effective at creating things for others and getting in the paint and being a great setup guy. We plan to use him that way, for sure."
Lawson's signing is reminiscent of Bird's trade for Leandro Barbosa on March 15, 2012. The Pacers finished the season 17-6 with Barbosa in the lineup and reached the second round of the playoffs, although his play dropped off in the postseason.
Vogel believes Lawson can have the same impact. So does George, a second-year player when Barbosa played for the Pacers.
"It was almost instant offense when he came into the lineup," George recalled. "It was the same thing with him, you didn't have to run plays for him. He just had a great knack for using his speed and using his talents to make plays."
Lawson looks forward to playing that way again.
"This is the place for me," he said. "I feel like I can get enough time to actually be able to play my game. I'm just excited."
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