Even after the Andre Iguodala trade, Lawson is still Denver's most important player. Not even the ever-durable and consistent Andre Miller can render him close to expendable.
Because he isn't.
Lawson is the catalyst who jumpstarts the Nuggets' offensive attack, someone who who can make a sizable two-way, an emerging leader who will ensure Denver keeps pace with the rest of the NBA's title contenders.
He's also someone who is up for a contract extension, an accord he himself deemed a mere formality only months ago.
And yet, according to Alex Kennedy of HOOOPSWORLD, contract talks—the same ones that are supposed to be a "formality"—between Lawson and the Nuggets have stalled, just days before the October 31 deadline.
I'm hearing that extension talks between Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets have stalled. The two sides have until Oct. 31 to reach agreement.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 28, 2012
Which is preposterous.
Though Denver has already extended a four-year, $45 million offer to its point guard, it is allowing this to become a much more compelling saga than it needs to be.
Because extending Lawson at a max—or close to max—deal worth four years and roughly $58 million should be a "formality" at this point.
Lawson led the Nuggets in points scored and steals per game last season. He finished second in a assists with 6.6 per contest and was the team's third-most efficient three-point shooter, converting on 36.5 percent of his attempts. His 19.43 PER also ranked ninth amongst the league's starting point guards.
Not too shabby for a 24-year-old point man only three years deep into his NBA career, is it?
Beyond the statistical realities, though, I—like you—understand that $11-plus million annually is a lot of money.
But this is the NBA, the place where dollars and cents rule with an iron fist, where contenders are only as legitimate as their wallets are deep.
And the Nuggets know this, because it's a foregone conclusion, which is why it's so shocking to see them toe the line of incompetency.
As I've noted previously, Denver's latest proposal to Lawson is basically equivalent to the one it extended to JaVale McGee and just $2-$3 million less than the one it threw at Danilo Gallinari.
Which essentially means the Nuggets have already set the bar against themselves. As talented and vital to the team's survival as both Gallinari and McGee are, neither is as integral a cog in Denver's machine as Lawson.
Because he's a superstar, one who's impact—and now reputation—easily rivals that of Iguodala.
And along with such a reputation, such status comes an inevitable reality—someone is going to line Lawson's pockets if the Nuggets don't.
We watched this past summer as the Portland Trail Blazers offered max money to Roy Hibbert, forcing the Indiana Pacers' hand. And we witnessed the Blazers themselves fell victim to their own ineptitude, when failure to extend Nicolas Batum prior to restricted free agency cost them nearly $50 million, courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Yes, it was a different story in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder could have, they would have given James Harden a max contract.
Which player is most vital to the Denver Nuggets' success?
But it's the very dissemblance of the situation in Denver that makes it so unsettling.
Unlike the Thunder, the Nuggets can pay—like, really pay—Lawson without regard to the luxury tax. Giving him nearly $15 million a year doesn't put them above the dreaded luxury tax line like it would have in Oklahoma City.
And regardless of whether or not you despised the Thunder's thinking, the Nuggets do not have the luxury of remaining title contenders without Lawson, the way Oklahoma City did without Harden.
No one's denying Harden's importance to that team, but it still has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to fall back on. Denver doesn't have anything of the sort.
Yes, both Andre Miller and Iguodala are above average distributors, but the latter is already determined to shed his label as a primary facilitator and showcase the rest of his game, while Miller is, well, 36.
Simply put, there are no excuses.
Lawson is only entering his prime. He continues to raise his own ceiling and is the driving force behind the Nuggets' rise to unselfish prominence.
And Denver's willingness to essentially disregard this is perplexing, bordering on infuriating.
Even in a free-agency class laden with point guards—the same class Denver won't be able to afford to pillage through this summer with or without its floor general—Lawson is going to get paid like a franchise star.
Because he is a franchise star.
Sure, there's a time and place for the Nuggets, for any team, to attempt to impose whatever leverage they hold, to be stingy in their spending, to remain stringent and unwavering in contract negotiations.
But this isn't it.