Where have you gone, Swaggy P? Lakers Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Los Angeles Lakers crowd favorite Nick “Swaggy P” Young has been MIA with a fractured knee for weeks now. The larger question, however, is whether the high-volume shooting guard will take his incendiary talent and sartorial splendor elsewhere next season.
Young is currently earning a veteran’s minimum wage, with a player’s option for next season—also for league minimum. In other words, he’s in the catbird’s seat.
How so? Because Young will no doubt exercise his option, thus putting the Lakers in a position of having to up the ante if they want him back.
Per Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently indicted his belief that Young will opt out of his contract.
Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, however, told the newspaper it’s presumptuous to predict for now:
No. Look, Nick’s play speaks for itself. He’s proven that he’s worth more than what his contract entails when he signed with the Lakers. But again, we’re not focused on that right now. He’s focusing on getting healthy and continuing to play well.
Don’t be fooled—that’s agent-speak for “show us the money.”
Young returned to his home town of Los Angeles last summer, after six seasons with the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. His erratic basketball orbit has both delighted and stupefied observers for years.
In an epic long-form piece for SB Nation's Liberty Ballers, Michael Baumann tosses out shotgun prose about the art of falling in love with a remorseless ball-chucker:
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. There's a pond not far from where I live that's home to a goose who runs out into the middle of the road when cars are coming, her offspring following dutifully in line behind her, trusting only in the unfailing ability and willingness of oncoming motorists to slam on the brakes in time to prevent a downy massacre. Nick Young is that goose.
Young was brought in along with several other low-priced reclamation projects, as a way to test drive a season.
Kobe Bryant was on the mend from Achilles surgery and about to be handed an expensive two-year extension. By all accounts, the idea was to surround the Lakers superstar and his fellow future Hall of Famers, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with underpriced shooters on short-term deals—hoping for a playoff run while configuring expiring contracts for a major rebuild.
It almost seemed to work—for a short while, anyway. Young proved to be much more than an unconscionable shooter, although there was no lack of entertainment value. He accepted a role off the bench during that early part of the season when the Lakers’ second unit was actually driving the narrative.
That was before Bryant came back and went right back out again with a fractured tibial plateau, an injury that would rob him of almost the entire season.
And, it was also before other injuries piled up in a ridiculous fashion, before the losses started hurtling off the cliff and stacking up at the bottom in an unforeseen windfall of draft lottery chips.
But through all the mess and misery, Swaggy P continued to be a bright shining light in a dark hole, giving fans something to cheer about and proving that he was still, indeed, a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.
Young’s road to fun and redemption hit a major snag on February 5, when he cracked his knee during a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since then, he has played just once—an ill-advised 20-minute appearance against the Brooklyn Nets later in the month, after which the medical staff put him right back on the shelf.
In his absence, the team has continued its resolute freefall to the bottom of the Western Conference standings, and now appears destined for the kind of draft pick that nobody could have anticipated at the start of the season.
In yet another twist, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks arrived from the Golden State Warriors in a swap for Steve Blake. Since landing in L.A., the unheralded newbies have averaged an unexpected 14.6 and 10 points respectively, per game.
Both are shooting guards—the natural position of both Bryant and Young—and they add to the glut of players with expiring contracts, like Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson, who shoot at will in Mike D’Antoni’s score-at-all-cost small-ball system.
Will Young be a Laker next season? How could any of us possibly know, when Young himself doesn’t seem to know?
He could take the safe path and exercise his option, thus taking the bird-in-the-hand approach.
That doesn’t seem like a Swaggy P move, however—this dude’s the blissful repudiation of authority figures and the status quo, personified.
Or, he could take the gamble on a recently mended knee and shoot the works—opting out of his contract and hoping the Lakers (or someone else) will sweeten the pot.
There’s approximately six weeks left on the Lakers’ schedule which means a mad dash to the finish line for players hoping to get picked up for next season. Young may get his minutes back, and he may not—we’re now at the point where all that’s left for the team as a whole is evaluating and showcasing for that next contract.
It has been a thoroughly dismal season in Lakerland, and it has sometimes seemed as if the only respite is Young—whether knocking down shots or brightening the mood with the kind of threads that could put Craig Sager to shame.
One thing is for certain—the Lakers are a better team with this guy in the lineup. He’s a high-flying act with a knack for finding the bucket and drawing the and-one.
He may not always make the right decisions, but he’s made a difference, even when it meant swinging on the Phoenix Suns after getting clobbered to the floor and calling out his teammates for not having the intestinal fortitude to back him up.
The pride of Cleveland High in Reseda, and USC, returned to his home turf this season and gave fans something to believe in. He brought back laughter, the pure joy of playing and a swing-for-the-fences sense of emotion that can sometimes be lacking in this laid-back town.
Perhaps we can take Kupchak and Bartelstein at their word when they say they’re not focused on Young’s contract at the moment. Let’s hope they don’t wait until it’s too late—it would be a shame if this snakebitten season turned out to be the lone testament of Swaggy P in purple and gold.
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