Houston… They Are a Problem

News broke late Sunday that the Houston Rockets traded for Ty Lawson, and the 27-year-old point guard has to be thanking everyone in Denver that his destination wasn’t actually Sacramento. Houston is going to be so fun to watch. We’ve all said this at least five separate times this off-season already, but let’s say it again – The West is stacked.

Let’s start with the actual trade. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Houston gave up Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson and a protected first-round pick next year for Lawson and a future second.

A quick recess to laugh at the latest of Lakers shortcomings:

It’s pretty clear Houston did well in this trade. Papanikolaou actually showed some promise, but he was hurt at the end of the year, and the Rockets have Donatas Motiejunas returning to fill the quota of versatile European 4. As for the other three players, Rockets fans won’t shed any tears. And that first-round pick should be low if all goes according to plan. Denver got exactly what it wanted: Lawson is gone and Emmanuel Mudiay has the reins; the Nuggets picked up a few intriguing young guys and the first-round pick is a solid asset.

With Lawson, the Rockets finally have a Top 15 point guard. Patrick Beverley complements James Harden well, but we always knew that Houston’s point guard spot could be upgraded. Last season, Lawson had the third-highest assists average in the entire league (9.6 apg). You’re not the only one surprised to read that. More impressively, Lawson ranked second in the NBA with 19.3 assist opportunities per game, meaning his assist number would’ve been much higher if he was passing to James Harden and Dwight Howard instead of Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson. Lawson has a reputation of being a speedy, whirling dervish on the fast break, which is perfect for Houston, but the numbers show he’s also an elite passer.

Watch this video of Lawson absolutely disrespecting D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell. And I know we’re talking about D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell, which means about as much as dunking on Bob Sacre and Carlos Boozer today, but it’s still a great play! If this Lawson of a couple seasons ago comes back to form, Houston will have the three-headed monster they’ve wanted for years.

Of course, Lawson’s off-the-court issues have to be mentioned. He’s been arrested twice in a year for suspicion of driving under the influence and has entered alcohol rehab. It’s a real problem, and there’s no guarantee this will go away. Houston is taking a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking. Let’s hope Lawson receives the help he needs and learns from his mistakes.

If Lawson fixes this, Houston has one scary team. Lawson, Harden, Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight as the starting five. Beverley, Donatas, Corey Brewer, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, (probably) JET off the bench. The Spurs and Warriors look like the early favorites for the top two seeds, but the Rockets and Clippers will be nipping at their heels throughout the season.

Any of those teams could plausibly win the West, and I haven’t even mentioned a healing Oklahoma City team, the consistently solid Memphis Grizzlies or Anthony Davis dragging the Pelicans into relevance. I don’t know what we did to deserve this, but the West could be one of the best conferences in NBA history. Buckle up.

Cover photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images via Grantland.

ANDREW TIE | @Andrew_Tie

Andrew Tie is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.

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