Clinton's Lawson Winds Up in Denver

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009

By the time Commissioner David Stern stepped to the lectern to announce the 18th pick of the 2009 NBA draft, Ty Lawson wasn't even looking at the flat-screen television hanging from the wall of the fourth-floor party room at The Park at Fourteenth in Northwest Washington. His hands clasped and his head down, Lawson mulled over the scenarios at play.

Six point guards already had been selected. Another projected first-rounder, Wake Forest's Jeff Teague, remained on the board. Minnesota already had drafted two point guards -- back-to-back at Nos. 5 and 6. No way the Timberwolves take another. And besides, Atlanta had shown a lot of interest in recent days. Maybe the Hawks.

Wait, Stern just uttered that familiar first syllable. "Ty- " The Clinton native craned his neck to the right and peered up. He'd gotten his hopes up the first time that night when he heard that syllable. The second time, he was not disappointed. "-won Lawson."

At 9:18 p.m., nearly two hours after the draft began, the wait ended. The Timberwolves drafted Lawson, though two minutes later it was announced he had been traded to Denver for a protected 2010 first-round pick. Nearly 100 family members and friends erupted. When voiced at high-decibel levels, surprise and elation sound strikingly similar.

"At first I was thinking, 'Why'd they pick me?' " Lawson said of becoming the third point guard drafted by Minnesota in the first round. After Keith Stevens, Lawson's former AAU coach, informed Lawson he was, in fact, Denver-bound, Lawson's outlook brightened.

With the Nuggets, the 6-foot floor general who led North Carolina to a national title this spring will serve as an understudy to Chauncey Billups, a well-known winner in his own right.

"He's been an all-star, he's Mr. Clutch, he's Mr. Big Shot," Lawson said. "Being able to learn from him how to run a team is very good for me."

Though Lawson did not work out for the Nuggets over the past two months, he did work out for them last year before Lawson pulled out of the draft and returned to North Carolina for his junior season.

Following the No. 7 pick (Stephen Curry to Golden State), Lawson's agent, Jeff Fried, began trading text messages with general managers of teams interested in picking his client. Among those teams was Denver.

But Lawson had little idea of his agent's workings. What he did know was that Stern appeared to be playing a cruel joke on him and his supporters. "With the 13th pick in the 2009 draft, the Indiana Pacers select Ty-" Stern reported at 8:50 p.m.

The room rejoiced. Fists were pumped. Hands were raised. Screams let out. Lawson later said at that moment he thought he had just become an Indiana Pacer.

"-ler Hansbrough." The room let out sighs of exasperation. Lawson's shoulders slumped.

"Everybody started to yell," Lawson said. "That's how these things go. I was definitely getting nervous."

He wasn't the only one. A half-hour before the draft began, Lawson's father, George, who had spent 22 years as a nutritionist stationed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base, acknowledged his anxiousness as well.

Two and a half hours later, George Lawson's edgy grin had evolved into a relieved smile. Thirty years ago, Lawson moved to Denver to attend his first training base in the Air Force. Now, his son will begin his career in the same city.

"I'm ready to celebrate and enjoy the moment," George Lawson said. "But then we're going to get [Ty] back focused and ready to accomplish the tasks he wants to accomplish."

Lawson got some initial advice and well-wishes from sources with knowledge of the league he's about to enter. Just as Lawson was selected, former NBA guard Steve Francis walked in and congratulated him. Francis, another Fried client, had flown in from Florida to be with Lawson on the biggest night of his career to date.

Though admittedly overwhelmed by the moment, Lawson said it was good -- after weeks of numerous plane trips across the country -- to finally know where he's going. That he ended up with a playoff contender and a veteran point guard from whom to learn made the result all the better.

"This is a good situation for the long-term growth and development of Ty Lawson," Fried said. "In the business world, we call this a terrific career move."

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