After a dismal 27-55 season, second-worst in franchise history, the Los Angeles Lakers could use some laughs.
Swingman Nick "Swaggy P" Young has been providing them all season: some good (he's a social media star), some rough (errant 360 layup attempt, premature three-point celebration) and some best labeled simply as "other" (his unique fashion and nickname handed down from the heavens).
L.A. enters the offseason littered with question marks.
The team has yet to settle on Mike D'Antoni's replacement. The roster is nearly barren, save for sizable commitments made to aging veterans Kobe Bryant ($23.5 million) and Steve Nash ($9.7 million), plus a low-cost salary ($0.9 million) for low-ceiling reserve Robert Sacre.
The Lakers have the means to be buyers in the NBA free-agent market, but they might be motivated to retain that flexibility for next summer. They also hold the No. 7 selection in June's draft, which could bring them a good player but perhaps one that needs some seasoning.
In other words, things could conceivably get worse before they get any better.
So it would seem to be in that sense that L.A. would have its biggest interest in hanging on to the undisputed king of swag. With entertainment on life support for the Purple and Gold, Young could be a badly needed source of levity.
But that's not the reason the Lakers make re-signing him an offseason priority. No, this would be a basketball decision.
Young owns a $1.2 million player option for next season, but he's been transparent about his plans to get out of his current deal. As NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper explained in April, the Lakers' unabashed gunner is ready to cash in on his breakout season:
While Swaggy P bathes in the attention of the uncertainty, Nick Young has made up his mind to opt out of his contract with the Lakers and become a free agent this summer, he strongly indicated to NBA.com.
Asked if he has made up his mind, Young said, "A little bit. It’s a mystery, though. I’ve got to keep y’all on your toes. That’s what Swaggy P does."
Not much of a mystery, though. He doesn’t see himself as a $1.2-million player.
"Oh, no," Young said. "Not at all. Most definitely. I deserve much more than that."
Young's ultimate goal would be to return to the Lakers, a source told Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders, but he still plans "to fully evaluate his options on the free agent circuit."
The Los Angeles native has reasons to keep his eyes wide open. The iron may never be hotter for him to strike a long-term deal.
He set career bests in points (17.9), true shooting percentage (56.4) and player efficiency rating (16.0), via Basketball-Reference.com. He made just nine starts on the season and still wound up tied for 29th in scoring. His 28.3 minutes a night were the fewest played by any of the league's top 60 scorers.
"Young was one of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season," Corey Hansford of Lakers Nation wrote. "He...proved himself as someone who can contribute to a good team with his explosive scoring ability."
The Lakers, thanks in large part to Young's contributions, finished second in the league in bench scoring (42.3 points per game), via HoopsStats.com. That number was surely impacted by D'Antoni's up-tempo offense and the fact that there wasn't much separation between his starters and his bench, but it's still a statistic that should carry some weight at the negotiating table.
The NBA might be devaluing one-trick, low-efficiency scorers like Young, but there's still a place in this league for self-starting microwave scorers. Top-tier teams like the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers struggled mightily to find someone with half the scoring punch that Young packs.
There should be no shortage of swag suitors, but the Lakers are already ahead of the pack. Young wants to be there, so badly he might be willing to take a financial hit just to stick around, per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:
Granted, the degree of economic loss he'd be willing to bear is unknown. The Lakers would need to be in the same ballpark as the other bidders, as loyalty only runs so deep in the business world.
Still, any savings are good savings. Particularly when there are so many roster spots yet to fill.
Young, a career 42.9 percent shooter, isn't the type of talent to which a team can give major minutes. He's a well-below-average rebounder (career 2.0 per game), an offensive ball-stopper (career 1.1 assists per game) and a defensive sieve (career 113 defensive rating, via Basketball-Reference.com).
All of that said, he has an obvious NBA skill. The best reserves have a go-to talent (think Jamal Crawford's scoring, Manu Ginobili's craftiness, Taj Gibson's hustle), and Young has found his.
It also happens to be one the Lakers are likely to have a clear need for, with injuries and age both potentially catching up to Bryant.
"If age is going to have an effect on Bryant's game, the dip may come in minutes on the floor -- 30 a night may be a more realistic mark," Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times wrote. "In his youth, he did whatever was possible to play hurt. A target of 68 to 72 games may be more realistic this coming season."
Significant second-team minutes could be available, along with several spot starts. Considering how much Bryant means to this offense—his career 31.75 usage percentage is the fourth-highest in the Basketball-Reference database—those opportunities need to go to someone comfortable with shouldering a heavy load.
Young just wrapped up a campaign that saw him serve as both an offensive and an emotional leader. While the Lakers appreciated the laughs he provided, hopefully they took notice of all those buckets too.
L.A. will likely need plenty of both next season, and Swaggy P sounds like he's ready to serve up another round.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
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