Pros and Cons of Los Angeles Lakers Re-Signing Nick Young
It's official: The Swag is back.
On the free-agent market, that is.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced on Wednesday that Nick Young will not be opting into the second year of his contract with the Purple and Gold. "We anticipated and expected that Nick would choose to become a free agent," GM Mitch Kupchak said in the team's official statement. "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."
And what a market that might be. Young's coming off of the finest year of his NBA career and, at 29, should still have years of quality basketball left in the tank. It'll certainly cost the Lakers—or any other team, for that matter—more than the two years at the veteran's minimum to which L.A. signed him last summer to keep/bring him aboard.
But would that expense be worth the Lakers' while, even with all of the cap space they're due this summer? Let's consider the pros and cons of Swaggy P's potential future at Staples Center.
Pro: He Can Ease the Burden on Kobe Bryant
The Lakers' 2014-15 campaign is shaping up to be all about Kobe Bryant—especially if they strike out in their pursuit of superstar free agents this summer.
The Black Mamba, though, may not be ready to strike like his old self. The rust of a season lost to Achilles and knee injuries, when combined with his age (he'll be 36 in August) and the tremendous mileage on his body, points to a player who will need some time to re-acclimate to the NBA game, at the very least.
And he might never again be the consistent superstar he once was.
Swaggy P could prove an invaluable asset in this regard. "I think I could stick to my same role and help out Kobe," Young told The Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. “He has to come out of the game sometime. If they get another good player, they have to come out of the game sometime. I’ll be their Jamal Crawford. The Clippers have a Sixth Man of the Year. The Lakers need to have one too.”
Should he return, the Lakers may well deploy Young as Bryant's primary backup, given the (vague) similarities in their size and playing styles.
L.A. knows full well that Young is suited to serving as a scoring sixth man. Young averaged a career-best 17.9 points this past season, including 18.8 (while shooting 40.3 percent from three) in 55 appearances off the bench. In the last two weeks of the season alone, Young piled up games of 25, 26, 32, 40 and 41 points—all as a reserve.
If Kobe can't be Kobe for 30-plus minutes per game like he used to, the Lakers could look to Young to make up some of the difference while affording the Mamba the rest he needs to succeed.
Con: Sometimes, He Tries Too Hard to Be Kobe
Then again, Swaggy P doesn't need any encouragement when it comes to pretending he's Kobe. Beyond the Mamba, Young's penchant for taking contested, fadeaway, midrange jumpers is practically unparalleled.
Which, in Young's case, isn't a good thing. According to NBA.com, he hit just 34.4 percent (194 of 572) of his jump shots in 2013-14. A percentage like that is difficult to excuse when you don't have five championships and a treasure trove of other accolades on which to lean, like Bryant does.
The same goes for the defensive end. Young was far from the only Laker whose effort and execution in that capacity left much to be desired last season, but he belonged in that category nonetheless. Like the Bryant of recent years, Young frequently gambled for steals and seemed to take possessions off on defense, perhaps to preserve his energy for his preferred side of the floor.
Either way, it didn't work out so well for Young and the Lakers. According to Synergy Sports, Young surrendered 1.07 points per possession when defending spot-up shooters, placing him all too comfortably among the bottom half of the league in that regard.
If defense is, indeed, a priority for the Lakers next season, they may want to think twice about retaining the Swagmaster himself...
Con: It Could Cost the Lakers a Pretty Penny to Keep Him
...Especially if Young and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, are seeking a substantial raise.
To be sure, the Lakers won't be short of cap space into which Young would fit. At present, L.A. has about $34.1 million in salary on the books for 2014-15. Whatever contract Swaggy signs won't push the Purple and Gold anywhere near the projected salary cap of $63.2 million.
Not on its own, anyway. According to The Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, the Lakers hope to arrange meetings with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony once the clock strikes midnight Eastern on July 1. Per ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, L.A. is among the teams angling to acquire both of those superstars now that they've officially opted for free agency.
Squeezing those two onto one squad will be tough enough on its own for the Lakers, even with their oodles of cap space. Doing so would require that the Lakers renounce their rights to nearly all of their existing free agents, and that James and Anthony take pay cuts. Finding a taker for Steve Nash's $9.7 million salary would help.
Putting Swaggy P on the books, on the other hand, wouldn't, even if he returns for a league-average take of about $5 million per year. Considering the Lakers' desire to return to contention ASAP, any move that might hinder their chances of doing so—re-signing Young included—would appear to be off the table.
Pro: He's a Fan Favorite...
That being said, the odds of the Lakers pulling off a Miami Heat-like free-agent coup rest somewhere between "slim" and "none." And if L.A. can't have two superstars in the bush, it wouldn't hurt to have one Swaggy in hand.
Even more so when factoring in the favor Young's curried among the team's fans. Young was born and raised in L.A., graduated from Cleveland High School in Reseda (Note: so did yours truly...C-HOUSE!) and spent three years at USC (Note: yours truly DEFINITELY didn't go here...GO BRUINS!) before turning pro in 2007. In short, he's a local boy made good, a fixture at South Central's famed Drew League who now gets to strut his stuff on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.
And do it in style, no less. Young was one of the few bright spots amidst the dingy misery of the Lakers' 27-55 season. His antics may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but by and large, those who still trickled into their seats at Staples Center appreciated Young for the passion, energy, emotion and sheer fearlessness with which he played every night.
If anything, the lowest point of Young's season in L.A. might've been his most endearing. Back in January, Young was involved in an altercation with Goran Dragic and Alex Len during a seven-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. Swaggy was slapped with a two-game suspension for his transgressions, though some Lakers past and present came to his defense—unlike most of his teammates at the time.
Young's decisions may not always be sound, but at least they stem from competitive, loyal intentions. He wanted to be a Laker and was willing to fight—literally—for that distinction.
That in itself should have the Lakers faithful (and Bryant himself) clamoring for Swaggy P's return. Apparently, it's been enough to inspire a wealthy fan in the Middle East to post ads all around L.A. imploring Swaggy to stay, per The Columbian's Erik Gunderson.
Con: He Can Be Maddeningly Inconsistent
As admirable as heart and hustle may be, they're no simple substitutes for reliable on-court production.
That's not exactly Swaggy's bag, or at least it wasn't on D'Antoni's watch.
Among volume shooters, Young's about as streaky as they come. He's almost as likely to knock down six three-pointers in a game (which he did three times in 2013-14) as he is to miss six of them (which he did five times).
Who knows if he'd have that long of a leash with which to work in L.A. going forward? Neither Byron Scott nor Lionel Hollins, the two presumed front-runners for the Lakers job, is known for letting his players run around and play freely—certainly not to the extent that D'Antoni did. Whoever gets the gig will want someone reliable to supplement the Mamba's minutes and give the team a spark off the bench.
Young is capable of doing those things, but not as consistently as the team's next coach might prefer.
Pro: He's a Warm Body...and the Lakers Need Some of Those
If nothing else, Young has two legs, a jump shot and plenty of attitude. At present, the Lakers don't have many guys who fit that description.
Or many players at all, for that matter. Only three players—Kobe, Nash and Robert Sacre—are currently under contract for 2014-15. The Lakers may have flirted with the idea of fielding an incomplete five this past season, as they did during an ugly win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but even they know they need bodies to fill the roster.
They could certainly do worse than Young's. Better yet, the fact that the Lakers own Young's Bird rights as an incumbent of theirs means they can go over the salary cap to sign him if need be. In essence, that would allow L.A. to bring in free agents from elsewhere to soak up money without infringing upon its ability to bring Swaggy back.
Assuming, of course, he doesn't find a deal to his liking with some other team before then.
That waiting game may be a tough pill for Young to swallow. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, Young wants to be "a priority" of the Lakers if he's to return.
The Lakers might just make him one, but only if they feel that doing so would give them a chance to return to respectability in short order.
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