Published: July 9, 2013
DENVER - From where Ty Lawson sits, the Nuggets look like a different operation.
"There's been so many changes from when I got here to now," the veteran point guard told me Tuesday.
When he got here, Mark Warkentien was the general manager who made the wise decision to grab Lawson in a draft-day trade.
"I've had two or three different GMs. Then Masai (Ujiri) left. Now Tim Connelly's here. New coach. New assistant coaches. It's real different.
"Not that it's bad. It's just real different."
Finally, a voice of reason amidst a storm of Nuggets negativity. It belongs to Lawson, the team's MVP and Colorado's next NBA All-Star.
His voice of optimism clashes with the talking heads still whining over the firing of their buddy, George Karl. Lawson's voice isn't in sync with the negative Nellys who swear the Nuggets bought a one-way ticket to the draft lottery for basketball eternity.
Lawson's voice is on the money. Sorry to bust up the pity party, NBA. The Nuggets are going to be just fine, thanks. To take two steps forward, they had to take one step back.
But we equate change with the negative. In the unusual case of this Nuggets offseason, all of the change must mean something's wrong and, as a result, the Nuggets are in a bad place.
The sky is falling, and Pepsi Center is being smothered underneath the rubble left behind.
"I don't think so," Lawson said. "I mean, everybody felt the same way when Melo left. We still maintained and won games."
There's that voice of reason again. Quick, shut it off before the truth gets out.
The Nuggets won 57 games and lost to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
The Warriors won 47 games and beat the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.
Can the Nuggets win, say, 50 games, and be better prepared to win in the playoffs?
"I think so. You look at the roster, (and) everybody is a year better," Lawson said. "I know Javale (McGee) is working out hard in L.A. He's been waiting for this opportunity for a while."
The changes are many. That's where all the concern comes from.
Out: Andre Iguodala and Kosta Koufos.
"Iguodala, I don't know what happened through negotiations, but I heard it got ugly," Lawson told me. "That's probably more of a reason why he left here. It's not because he didn't want to be here. I think he wanted to be here."
In: forwards Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson ("He's a good friend of mine," Lawson said) and, reportedly, shooting guard Randy Foye, as part of the Iguodala sign-and-trade. Erick Green, the drafted guard from Virginia Tech, is in, too.
In: Brian Shaw, the rookie coach.
"Every time I see him, we talk for an hour, an hour and a half," Lawson said. "He's real chill, real laidback. Funny guy. Easy to get along with. I think he really relates to the players. It's easy to talk to him."
See, change can be good.
If the Nuggets are able to convince Kenneth Faried he can be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, the frontcourt should be a whole lot tougher, a whole lot edgier. Hickson can't guard his shadow on defense, but he can score and he plays hard, like his next contract depends on it.
"I think J.J. Hickson is a lot like Faried," Lawson, a North Carolina guy, said of Hickson, a North Carolina State guy. "He might step out and shoot it a little bit better. But he still has the motor and the energy to play like Faried."
The next Nuggets will be young, again. Only three players currently under contract are older then Lawson, who is 25 and entering his fifth season in the NBA.
Need more good news? The right player to lead the Nuggets into a new frontier is already on the roster. It's Lawson, who emerged in the second half of the 2012-13 season to show his true colors as a dynamic playmaker that can cripple a defense with his speed or his shot.
The hot-button topic with the Nuggets was their lack of an All-Star. That's kind of accurate; the Nuggets had an All-Star-caliber player, but Lawson only played like it for half the season.
This offseason Lawson is working on moves perfected by Tony Parker, the Spurs' point guard. One of Lawson's personal goals is to make the All-Star roster.
From what I saw in January and on, I would be more surprised if Lawson doesn't make the 2014 All-Star Game than if he does.
"I need to be more assertive early in games," he said. "Normally I let the game come to me. But if I come out more assertive from the jump, I think it will be easy for me to be an All-Star."
Here's one change we don't need: Lawson playing somewhere other than Denver.
As he blossomed as a playmaker last season, I know at least one team had its eye on Lawson. Step off, other team.
"I re-signed a four-year deal (in 2012). That would be, what, eight years for me here?" Lawson said. "If things keep going the way they are, I'll probably be a lifetime Nugget."
Does that sound like a player fuming and furious at change?
Change is different. Change will take some getting used to.
In the long term, change is good.