But after a disappointing season for both the Lakers and Young, it would not be surprising to see him dangled in summer trade talks.
An effervescent free spirit and volume shooter under Mike D’Antoni, Young hasn’t fit in nearly as well with new Lakers coach Byron Scott. The swingman’s scoring has dropped from a career-high 18 points per game during his last campaign to a 13-point average this season.
Young has also dealt with injuries, from a broken thumb that required surgery to a current hairline fracture in his left kneecap—the same injury that sidelined Kobe Bryant for much of last season.
Young also missed a number of games last season with a fracture in the same knee, as noted by Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.
Ordinarily one of basketball’s truly joyful and celebratory players, the 29-year-old has clearly struggled with declining production, the challenges off an off-ball system and criticism from his coach.
“What I want him to be is a complete basketball player, not just a one-hit wonder,” Scott said recently, per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation.
During a TWC SportsNet interview with James Worthy, Young addressed the challenges: “When your coach tells you to do something and you’re so used to doing something totally opposite, and trying to incorporate it into your game, you’re just thinking too much out there.”
Asked if Scott has been his toughest coach yet in the NBA, Young replied, “Yeah, by far right now. Not just talking and all that, but the practices are heavy, and he stays on me every day.”
Worthy offered advice about evolving: “Reggie Miller was a guy that set picks and moved without the basketball. Plus, when you come off that pick, I’d like to see you curl more. … It’s going to take some offseason work.”
Asked what it would take to get to the next level, Young said: “Being more mentally prepared and mentally focused and not letting the outside get to me and staying with it. This offseason I’m going to work out, do all the things I need to do and come back stronger than ever.”
Young felt confident about not being moved during the most recent trade deadline, as Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News tweeted in February.
But every summer is another crossroads season in the NBA.
Young has three years and $16 million left on his contract. That’s not an albatross for a playoff-level team needing extra scoring punch, but it becomes more questionable for an organization committed to a youth-driven rebuild.
With only a handful of guaranteed contracts, L.A. has gaps across the board. Critical needs include a dominant big man, a consistently aggressive two-way small forward and a pass-first point guard to complement the rapidly evolving Jordan Clarkson.
Lakers management has never been shy about dangling players in trade talks—Pau Gasol’s name came up nearly every year, and favorite sons like Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom were sent packing when management deemed that useful. Even Shaquille O’Neal was traded away after being the linchpin in three championship runs.
If those players were expendable, then Swaggy P’s future in purple and gold is far from safe.
But a team that has struggled at both ends of the court this season also has to understand what it would be giving up—Young draws double coverage and, when right, can light up the scoreboard at an elite level.
Speculating about the end of No. 0’s run in Lakerland is evidence of how quickly fortunes can turn on a dime. A fan favorite, Young has also enjoyed considerable support within the organization.
“Nick was a bright spot for us last season,” said Lakers manager Mitch Kupchak last summer, per Lakers.com, “and we are happy to retain such a skilled player who is committed to being a part of what we are building as a franchise.”
Team president Jeanie Buss also voiced enthusiasm, telling Bill Macdonald on TWC SportsNet last year: “I, like so many fans, fell in love with Nick Young and his swagger on the court, his love for the game and the way he plays.”
But there is also considerable pressure to turn things around. Jeanie said in January, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, that she would hold her brother Jim to a self-imposed three-year deadline to resign if the team does not advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Jim Buss, who is head of basketball operations, made that promise to his siblings the previous year, as reported by the Times.
And when executives are facing a ticking clock, wheeling and dealing inevitably accelerates.
Nick Young is only one cog in a broken wheel of back-to-back losing seasons for the Lakers, and trading him away may not ultimately result in a net gain for the roster or the front office.
But his name will certainly come up in trade talks this summer. It would be foolish to believe otherwise.