EL SEGUNDO, CA-It’s hard not to like Nick Young. If Young was not in the professional basketball business he would fit in perfectly at the Happiest Place on Earth. What’s not to like about Young?
Swaggy P has the easygoing gait and the undeniable appeal of joy written all over his face that makes him a signed, sealed and delivered employment candidate for Walt Disney World once he hangs up his basketball sneakers.
Who knows how long that will be. For now, Young is bottling up his carefree way and carrying it with him on the court for another season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. At least for now. As he strolled out to meet reporters during the Lakers’ media day at the team’s facility in El Segundo, Young’s engaging personality lit up the room.
In speaking to the media, Young sounded as if he was coming from a good place as training camp got underway for the Lakers. That’s a whole lot better than he was in last season-professionally and personally. This season, under new head coach Luke Walton, could be the right re-do for Young’s career.
The Lakers’ 17-win, 2015-2016 season, which just concluded months ago, is best left behind in the rearview mirror as far as Young is concerned.
It was not a good look for him or the team. Entering his 10th season in the NBA, the 6-foot-7 Young is coming off his worst year of his career, after scoring just 7.3 points a game.
It didn’t help a whole lot with Young having a strained relationship with former coach Byron Scott. For whatever reason, Young could not get on the same page as Scott.
That led to a see-saw, up-and-down season for both men where neither one flourished.
Making matters worst for Young, on a personal embarrassment note, was the well-documented video fiasco he had with teammate and then road roommate D’Angelo Russell that led to an eventual rift and departed relationship with former finance Iggy Azalea.
Of course, if you believe the news reports out there, the swirling trade derby is always floating about when it comes to Young. Still, there was Young in the middle of the media day circus, graciously fielding questions-one after another-seemingly not too worried about all the outside noise around him or the team.
With no Scott, no Kobe Bryant, Young seemed eager to get started on his new purple and gold journey.
“It’s a new atmosphere, new staff and you know just going out there playing and trying to get some wins,” Young said. “It’s a new opportunity, new coaching staff and Luke (Walton) is a great coach who knows the game. We’ll be alright.”
Even with head coach Luke Walton moving down the coast to take the Lakers job from his former assistant coach position for the Golden State Warriors, being alright might take some time.
Hitting the .500 mark would be a stretch this season. The Lakers have an incredible young lineup with Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Anthony Brown and prized rookie Brandon Ingram in the fold.
With his veteran presence, along with forward Luol Deng, Metta World Peace and Lou Williams, the Lakers young players can certainly benefit from the elder statesmen on the ballclub. Young said he would welcome the chance to mentor the young players.
“I’ve pretty much been here for ten years, seen it all, been through the majority what you could go through in the NBA, but I’ll give them my little words of wisdom,” Young said. “If they need me, they know I’m here.”
Under Walton, it is expected that Young could go back to his freewheeling days earlier in his career, In his fourth year in the league, Young put up just over 17 points a game for the Washington Wizards. In his first full season with the Lakers, Young posted his career-high in scoring 17.9 points a game, something that has slipped dramatically the last couple of seasons.
Whether it was sitting in Scott’s doghouse or finding it difficult to blend his jovial personality with the tough-as-nails Bryant, Young looked out of sorts these past few seasons. A once vital scoring threat coming off the bench, Young, in recent seasons, has been reduced to something of a caricature.
He is more looked at today as a character rather than a player who can drop 41 points on you in a game the way he did against the Utah Jazz in 2014. Walton might be able to change that perception. Coming from Golden State where he helped run the Warriors’ free-flowing offense, Walton could be the just the right medicine that Young needs for a career revitalization.
Young is certainly looking forward for the opportunity to explore Walton’s less restrictive offense.
“I thing we got the right tools to do that here,” said Young. “A lot of guys want to get up and down, want to get out there and shoot it, and do a lot of similar things. We should be alright.”
What would make the Lakers alright is if they know who the Alpha male is. With Bryant retired, the Lakers are going to need someone to step up to replace the future Hall of Famer. Under Bryant, it was clearly understood that this was his team.
Will Young take a step forward to claiming that role now or will he leave it for his younger teammates to scramble over the coveted mantle? That’s not where Young’s attention is. His main focus right now is making sure his jump shots go through the hoop.
“Just keep that jump shot right,” Young said. “Keep working hard, and that’s all I’m supposed to do, is work hard and play for my opportunity. For the last two years, it’s been kind of tough for me.”