The complicated crossroads of Ty Lawson’s fallen career

Ty Lawson has a drinking problem. Or rather, Ty Lawson’s problem is drinking. 

When Lawson was in Denver, he was a legit star. He was the starting point guard for a Nuggets team that won 57 games, arguably its best player, and putting up All-Star-type numbers. Then the arrests started. 

On Jan. 23, 2015, Lawson was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Denver. He revealed to the police he had an outstanding DUI situation in Missouri, which has never really been cleared up. 

Seven months later, he was arrested in Los Angeles for the same charge. A judge ordered him into a rehab facility. 

Here is Ty Lawson, NBA star, multi-millionaire, all of life ahead of him, locked in a rehab facility. That would shake most people. Here’s what Lawson said, instead: 

Lawson learned “what triggers are” and “what forces someone to drink,” but says this on his public and private problems with alcohol: “I still honestly don’t think I would’ve had to go in there if it wasn’t court ordered. I just made two dumb mistakes. But I did take things from the [rehabilitation facility].”

Source: Refreshed and recharged, Ty Lawson taking aim at Steph Curry, NBA’s elite

Lawson was traded to Houston, and looked to recover his career, but it never happened. He wasn’t the same player and never really excelled with the Rockets. Lawson wound up with the Kings this season, and had played decently, at times even well. Before the season, despite all that had gone on, this is how Lawson described his situation with alcohol, via the Undefeated:

Did you really have to watch what you were doing off the court last season after your previous off-the-court struggles?

I had to be careful about where I was going and things like that. Even if I wasn’t doing anything all you could hear is, ‘Ty is out again doing something.’ I had to make sure I had a positive light on me. I wasn’t doing anything for anyone to talk about.

Did you purposely refrain from doing certain things or going to certain places?

Not really. I wouldn’t be out late at night or anything like that. That would give people any type of excuse. I pretty much did the same things I always do. The times I got in trouble, I was caught drinking and driving. I don’t drive anymore or do anything irresponsible. Mostly, I’ve been just staying in and staying out of the spotlight.

I’m focused. I’m in the gym every day. I feel like the old Denver Ty Lawson will be ready to show up.

What do you say to prospective teams when they ask you about your alcohol problems?

Things happened in the media because I drank and drove. But I’m not a person out here like everyone thinks that I’m drunk all day. No, I don’t do that. A lot of my friends, we go out and celebrate. But I’m not that person in the morning getting drunk before practice. I think there is a big misconception about what everybody thinks. That’s what I basically tell them. I keep it honest.

via Ty Lawson aims to bounce back after stumbling

These are not the words of a man who thinks that he has a problem with substance abuse. 

Then, last week, the Denver Post reported that Lawson had been ordered to appear in court regarding not one, but three failed tests for alcohol during court-ordered supervision in California, in violation of his probation. Lawson’s attorney denied that Lawson had failed to complete his community service, and that a bench warrant had been issued. 

The situation remains serious, however, as Sports Illustrated sports law expert Michael McCann notes that Lawson could serve jail time, based on the decision of the judge in the hearing:

On March 22 in court, Lawson will need to “show cause” that his probation should not be revoked. If he fails to do so, Judge Fay could rule that Lawson must serve time -- most likely a matter of days -- in jail. A show cause hearing normally occurs when a probation officer informs the sentencing judge that a defendant who is on probation has violated the conditions of his or her probation. In order to show cause, Lawson must either refute the probation officer’s allegations or admit that the probation officer is correct, but then plead with Judge Fay to give him another chance. Lawson would be more persuasive if he establishes there were mitigating circumstances that might have contributed to any probation violations. For instance, Lawson might claim that he suffered from a medical condition or stress from a family member’s illness. Even then, Judge Fay would be poised to reject any excuses and remind Lawson of her warning to him last March.

via Ty Lawson’s Court Date Could End His NBA Career |

Lawson could serve a few days in jail, which, while horrible, isn’t the end of the world. But we’re past the point of Lawson running out of chances. This is his last chance. He has cost himself millions with his poor decision making, and has continued to have alcohol problems after being ordered into rehab. And still, he maintains this is all a misunderstanding, that he doesn’t have a problem. 

If Ty Lawson does not have a drinking problem, he is the victim of the worst set of unfortunate circumstances related to alcohol in history. 

Ty Lawson’s NBA career faces another crisis USATSI

But even then, that’s an outside perspective. You or I can’t really say whether Ty Lawson has a drinking problem. The only people that can answer that are Lawson, substance abuse experts and God. There’s what the situation looks like, and there’s what it is, and at the heart of that disconnect is the relationship between professional athletes and the public. It doesn’t change the severity of Lawson’s situation, however. Either Lawson has a significant substance abuse problem that has already derailed his career and threatens to end it entirely, or the act of drinking has brought such problems to him. 

Ty Lawson is just 29 years old. He should be in his prime, taking advantage of the NBA’s new wide-open, perimeter heavy, guard-focused styles of play. Lawson’s issue was always his height, yet there’s 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, entering the MVP conversation as an offense-only scoring point. Lawson continues to feel that he’s a victim of circumstance and bad decisions, while rejecting the narrative that he truly has a problem that needs addressing. 

It’s not too late for him, but somewhere hidden between how Lawson’s story looks to the rest of the world and what it really means for him is the story of how one of the NBA’s most talented point guards lost his way. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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