Ty Lawson and Dante Cunningham are opponents tonight, but theyâ€™ve been friends since age 7.
By JOAN NIESENFS North
MINNEAPOLIS – It's been 18 years since two little boys on Andrews Air Force base began playing basketball together. It's been 18 years, AAU squad after AAU squad, colleges, five NBA teams, and now, improbably, those two little boys are about to face off yet again as pros.
There's no way to calculate the odds of
Dante Cunningham and Ty Lawson's friendship. Sure, plenty of former college teammates meet up on the court in the NBA. Plenty of former AAU teammates, too. But teammates at age 7? One in a million doesn't sound outlandish.
When the two met, Cunningham had just returned to the United States after living with his parents in Germany. Ty, or Tywon, as Cunningham still sometimes calls him, played for the Andrews Magic, coached by his father, George Lawson, and Cunningham joined the team.
The Magic went 80-7 during the eight-year span the two played together, and pictures abound of the two future NBA players together in their child-sized uniforms. It still surprises Cunningham how much those photos surface when the two play each other. He laughs, and his eyes widen as he thinks back on the odds of two little boys' dreams coming true how they did.
Since the Magic, Lawson and Cunningham have shared so much. They played on rival AAU teams, Lawson for the D.C. Blue Devils (the same team as one Kevin Durant), Cunningham for the D.C. Assault, and then Lawson went to Bishop McNamara High School, Cunningham to St. John's College High School, both in Maryland. The two schools were in the same conference, which meant they played twice a year, and when the two boys headed to college, Cunningham to Villanova, Lawson to North Carolina, they couldn't have imagined what was in store. They met one time in a game, on April 4, 2009, just months before both would enter the NBA draft. It was the semifinals of the Final Four, and Lawson's Tar Heels won, 83-69, en route to a national championship.
And then they were drafted, Lawson 18th, Cunningham 33rd, and that's where the odds get crazy. Both boys, now men, had defied so much. Neither stopped growing. Neither was derailed by a flawed AAU system or coach. Neither got in trouble sufficient to derail his career. Everything fell into place, and now, they meet up again, Lawson and the Nuggets, Cunningham and the Timberwolves.
It kind of blows your mind to think about.
Still no Ricky: Point guard Ricky Rubio will not make his return Wednesday night against the Nuggets. Head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam announced the decision Wednesday morning. In his pregame availability, Rick Adelman stressed that the team is taking it game by game, but that there's no weight given to him debuting at home vs. on the road. But one deterrent to him playing in New Orleans Friday would seem to be that it's on the front end of a back-to-back, so fans can hold out hope that they might get to see their first glimpses of Rubio this season at home – if he even plays this weekend at all.
Adelman remained pleased, though, with Rubio's progress in practices.
"He's been practicing just fine," he said. "He hasn't been held out of anything, so I think the biggest thing is how's he going to feel when he gets out there. Game and practice is going to be two different animals."
"The most important thing to me is the fact that he's still practicing, he still hasn't had any problems as far as that goes, and we have to be aware when he comes back where he's at."
Brandon Roy remains optimistic: Brandon Roy was present in the Timberwolves locker room pregame on Wednesday, the first game-night sighting of him since his Nov. 19 surgery. Adelman said that Roy remains limited in practice, doing no more than shooting, and the coach hopes that he will return to activities with the team either next week or the week after. Adelman also noted that practices during that busy stretch will be hard to come by, which adds another wrinkle to the situation.
Let the trades begin: No, not necessarily in Minnesota. But Dec. 15, this Saturday, marks the date on which players who signed offseason deals this year can be traded. There are some exceptions – guys acquired in amnesty auctions, some players who resigned for bigger money due to salary-cap rules and restricted free agents whose team matched offers to keep them – but for the most part, the trade market will open much wider in a matter of days.