Nick ‘Swaggy P’ Young blazed an erratic orbit over the past six seasons with three NBA teams. The Los Angeles Lakers offered him a minimum salary contract this summer, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle at a dollar-store price.
First, it’s worth noting that Young’s a local product. The pride of Cleveland High in Reseda, as well as USC, he was the 16th overall pick in the 2007 draft and spent four-and-a-half seasons with the Washington Wizards, confounding coaches and fans alike.
Witness just a few brief snippets from Michael Baumann’s tremendous long-form piece in Liberty Ballers:
Nick Young may be the least rational player in the NBA. His game is a love song to the impulsive, the hedonistic, the do-what-feels-right-now-and-damn-the-consequences.
He is at his most endearing when he is at his most harmful to the team. He is the rejection of the orderly, personified. There is nothing managed, or cultivated, or even adult about him. He gives the impression of being endlessly fascinated by basketball, and every sense, he plays with an intensity and a get-up-and-go that makes you wonder if he’s discovering the game anew every time he steps on the floor.
Nick Young is staying out until last call. Nick Young is the thrill of the chase. Nick Young is going commando. Nick Young is Red Bull instead of coffee. Nick Young is not the kind of basketball player you bring home to meet your parents. Nick Young is played by Jack Black in the movie version. Nick Young is too busy having fun to give a good goddamn about your stern disapproval.
Dan Devine from Ball Don’t Lie also captures the essence of Young:
The cold reality, of course, is that Nick Young will break your heart; Wizards fans know this all too well. He will shoot you out of games, he will disinterestedly defend you out of games, he will refuse to pass you out of games, he will lackadaisically not-box-out you out of games—he is an incredibly versatile player, lose-you-games–wise. But in those moments when the shot’s falling, when everything’s clicking and his joy is irrepressible…he’s pure and unadulterated fun in a way that few NBA players are. There’s room for that. There has to be.
Okay, so fine. That was Young then, but it’s all ancient history. He’s with the Lakers now—the team with all the banners, the team with the eye eternally on the prize, the team that spends big to win big...the team that prides itself on a solid big-cap methodology.
Right? Maybe not so much so. Once one of the slowest, most system-driven half-court offenses in the NBA, the Lakers no longer have that identity. Gone is the guy who won 11 rings as a coach, gone is the biggest payroll in basketball. And, as of the end of this season, gone will be the highest salary in the league.
Kobe Bryant’s $30 million is coming off the books.
There’s about to be a new world order. Well, maybe. Nothing is certain in sports. But there is at least a rough draft. And there is also one absolute certainty—Bryant, whether he comes back successfully from Achilles surgery or not, is in the winter of his career.
With barely anything on the books for next year, the Lakers are looking toward free agency. They’re stockpiling reclamation projects this season, young players with a ton of talent and just as many question marks. They are looking to build a nucleus on the cheap. Young, as flighty a player as he is, is an important part of the plan.
Here's Young going off for 30, against The Lakers:
Nick Young is getting the courtside celebs out of their seats. Nick Young is allowing Mike D’Antoni to run and gun to his heart’s content. Nick Young is make Kobe Bryant stare and shake his head.
There used to be another no-conscience gunner for the Purple and Gold, remember? When Bryant was drafted, Young was still in middle school. Nobody’s foolish enough to believe that Young can be the next Kobe. That ship sailed long ago. But, Young can bring the fireworks—and for a price.
For all of the free-wheeling, ignore-your-teammates reputation, there is a very real connectivity to the Lakers. Young grew up around here, was shaped by events on and off the court, including the murder of an older brother. And when he was going through tough academic times in high school, he was helped by none other than current teammate Jordan Farmar.
Andy Kamenetzky interviewed Young for ESPN Los Angeles, as part of a series entitled “The L.A. in my Game.” Here, Young talks about the Farmar connection:
One day, he sent me, like, Christmas. I got a package from Jordan Farmar and I was shocked. It was some SAT books, something he told me to study on. He used them. They worked for him. And he had a note that said you need this opportunity because you're a great player and a great person. Anything I can do, I want to help and I want you to take full advantage of it. And the letter blew me away, because it's another player in high school sending me something like that. I gained the most respect for him and from there on, we've stayed the best of friends.
So there’s a different side to Young, the guy who’s not just a shoot-happy heartbreaker but there for the team, right? Um, maybe. Sometimes you just gotta be who you are. On Friday against the Pelicans, he put up 13 points, had three boards, no assists and no steals. Plus he fouled out. That’s Swaggy time.
Look, for a little over a million bucks, Young can offer caffeine and sugar to the hometown faithful. If Kobe comparisons seem like rampant headline-grabbing that’s okay—Nick Young is all about the headlines. Or, as Michael Baumann said:
Nick Young is the diametric opposite of how I try to live my life. But he's the perfect representation of how I want to live it. And today, I love him. We'll let tomorrow take care of itself.