Updates from Wednesday, June 25
The Lakers confirm Nick Young is headed to free agency:
The Lakers provide comments from GM Mitch Kupchak:
"We anticipated and expected that Nick would choose to become a free agent," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. "We very much appreciate his contributions to last season’s team, and we will hopefully be able to bring him back. However, he, his agent and the market will dictate his future direction."
Los Angeles Lakers swingman Nick Young is known for his colorful personality and volume shooting, which makes him a bit of a wild card on the court.
Young had a big decision to make on whether to stay in L.A. or test free agency this offseason, and on Tuesday, he reportedly elected to decline his player option for the 2014-15 NBA season.
ESPN's SportsCenter account passed along the news:
In his first and only season playing in coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense, Young averaged a career-high 17.9 points to lead the Lakers in scoring, despite coming off the bench. The problem was that neither Young nor his teammates played much defense, leading to a woeful season without superstar Kobe Bryant for most of it.
But at least Young garnered respect for his scoring prowess, as Lakers.com's Mike Trudell pointed out:
D'Antoni resigned in May, and the Lakers are in the market for a new coach, making the situation in L.A. a little murky. The man known as "Swaggy P" put his name in for consideration:
BasketballInsiders.com's Lang Greene reported on Young's status on May 28:
A source very close to Young recently told Basketball Insiders the Los Angeles native would prefer to wear a Lakers uniform next season despite the uncertainty of the team’s roster and the vacant head coach position.
However, the source fully believes Young will elect to opt out of his deal this summer in order to fully evaluate his options on the free agent circuit in July. [...]
According to the source, the purpose of opting out of his deal would be driven by the desire to lock up a more lucrative long term contract with the Lakers. But at the end of the day anything can happen during free agency and that’s where keeping all options open has importance.
As a Los Angeles native who went on to shine at the University of Southern California, playing for the storied Lakers franchise has been an ideal fit for Young.
"Playing for the Lakers has been a dream come true," said Young, per Jeff Weiss of LA Weekly. "I grew up watching Magic and James Worthy and Kobe and Shaq. I had the Kobe 'fro in high school. These are my roots."
Opting out seemed inevitable, though, because Young himself stated that he felt a bigger payday was in order after his stellar season, per an interview on 710 ESPN Radio in April (h/t InsideSoCal.com):
I believe I deserve more. Coming back home means the world to me. It would be a blessing to be able to stay here. But I believe I came here and prove I deserve a little more. They’ve been disrespecting Swaggy P. [...]
I believe I can do the other things a little bit well. Everything gets overshadowed by how I play on the offensive end. Once you come int this league, you get labeled a little bit. I get labeled as a shoot first type of player. Kobe [Bryant] said go and run with it. They put you on the floor and know what you’re going to do.
So there is still a chance that Los Angeles re-signs Young to a more lucrative deal, as it appears he is enamored with the idea of staying put while getting paid more. Whether the Lakers want to fork over the type of cash to meet Young's demands is another matter.
If Young can indeed do more than be a scoring spark off the bench, he must justify that if L.A. decides to keep him on at an increased salary. However, for someone who scored just under 18 points per game last year, making a little more than $1.2 million would be quite the bargain if the Lakers were able to convince young to accept that (h/t Spotrac.com).
Although the Lakers have a high draft pick and figure to score a big-time prospect in the 2014 draft, there is still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the squad. General manager Mitch Kupchak has a long way to go to build a championship-caliber roster, especially with the exorbitant contracts of Bryant and Steve Nash clogging a lot of cap space.
The decks are clear enough to ultimately retain Young, but his current label may not justify keeping him around as a piece of the new nucleus Kupchak is assembling. At the very least, Young is going to make more on the open market than he would have under his previous contract.
He just may not be playing for his dream organization anymore in doing so.