"I wasn't going to go as high as I wanted to go," Lawson said. "I probably would have [gone] in the first round, but it wouldn't have been as high as I wanted. If I came back this year, I could probably do better and go higher, so that's the reason I came back."
Bird, the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations, had entertained the thought of drafting Lawson with the team's No. 11 pick. But when the news broke that the point guard had been charged with driving after consuming alcohol under age, driving with a revoked license and a noise ordinance violation, things changed dramatically for Indiana – and for Lawson.
When asked if the arrest affected his decision to remain in the draft or return to UNC, Lawson replied with the following: "Yeah, I think so, because Coach [Roy Williams] talked to Larry Bird and they were real high on me. I was either going to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick [on their draft board]… They've had a lot of problems with things like that, like with Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal – there were a couple of people that he named – so he called and said that they just couldn't take a chance."
If Indiana had decided to take that chance, then Lawson said he would "probably" be in the NBA right now. Instead, he's preparing to make another run at the national championship with a loaded Tar Heel roster.
Lawson pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a charge of driving after consuming alcohol under age, but prosecutors dismissed the driving while license revoked charge and the noise ordinance violation. With the guilty plea, he was granted a Prayer for Judgment Continued, which means the conviction will stay off his record provided he stays out of trouble.
The Clinton, Md. native has already completed 26 hours of community service, an alcohol assessment and a written report on the impact of drinking and driving as part of his plea agreement.
Lawson understands the impact of the arrest, and is working to get past the ordeal.
"You live and you learn, and you go through things," Lawson said. "Maybe it happened for a reason. [I] can't go back and think about it now, you can't change things, so I'm just looking forward."
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder doesn't expect much more, if any, discipline action to be taken by the North Carolina coaching staff.
"He said I was already punished by Larry Bird and him calling Indiana, and not being able to go to the league, so I don't think [I'll be punished further]," Lawson said. "Probably maybe one sprint or a couple of sprints, but not too much, he said."
Lawson said there was not a big transition in changing his mindset for preparing for the NBA versus preparing to return to school, with the focus on improving his conditioning being the same for both options. More importantly, he believes his teammates have put the NBA ordeal in the past, and the focus is clearly on another Final Four run in 2008-09.
"I think so – they embraced all three of us," Lawson said. "I think our team is happy that we came back."