The chief export of Nick Young is confidence, a fact made plain by his self-styled Swaggy P nickname, shot selection and, more than anything else, his willingness to harass Kobe Bryant.
In keeping with the ultra-laid-back persona Young has worked so hard to cultivate, his jabs at Bryant are never mean-spirited. They're typically preceded by a "You guys ready for another one?" glimmer in his eye.
He delivers them with a smile, then follows them with a look around the room or a faux-pensive stare at the ceiling.
Young knows what he's doing—playing to the crowd by poking the bear—and he loves it. He knows it gets a rise out of observers, draws an audience. And Young seems to want nothing more than an audience.
It started early, with some tongue-in-cheek shots on media day back in September.
"Kobe worked out with me," Young told reporters, via Mark Medina of InsideSoCal.com. "I didn’t work out with him. He came to me,” Young said, laughing. “I was showing Kobe the ropes this summer. Just breaking out plays the way he can score in the offense. I had a sitdown coach Byron Scott telling him how he should play.”
It's interesting to note that Young realized his minor zing of Scott didn't test as well as his mention of Bryant. He has focused his subsequent barbs on Kobe as a result.
And Kobe has fired back as well, indicating he's taking Young's comments in the spirit they're intended. On media day, Bryant offered up this gem of a retort to reporters when asked to choose between Iggy Azalea (Young's girlfriend) and Swaggy P: "Iggy. She's been more successful in her career so far."
Bryant's reputation as a tough, overly serious personality colors his interactions with Young. There's always just a hint of Kobe's hyper-competitive menace peeking out from behind the levity, and sometimes we see it erupt.
For the most part, though, Bryant seems to at least tolerate and possibly enjoy the Swaggy P variety show on the court.
After Young buried a game-winner against the San Antonio Spurs in December, Kobe shared what looked like a genuine celebratory moment with his brash understudy:
In the locker room following his big bucket, Young launched into a grade-A Swag-a-thon, soaking up the moment and, of course, taking some light-hearted digs at Bryant:
It's important to watch and hear Young when he's needling his veteran teammate. If you're only reading his comments, they just seem disrespectful—even dangerous considering Bryant's legendary intensity.
But that's just it: Young is, above all else, pretty much harmless. Which seems to have a lot to do with the way Bryant absorbs his silly shots.
Seriously, try to imagine what would happen to another player telling Kobe at practice that he couldn't be guarded one-on-one, as Young does in this clip:
Maybe others have said the same things to Kobe before, in jest or otherwise, but Young gets away with it because a) he seems to genuinely believe what he's saying, and b) Bryant doesn't take him seriously.
It has probably become harder to brush off Young's comments as the season has gone on—often torturously—for Kobe and the Lakers. When L.A. beat the mighty Golden State Warriors (without Bryant) in December, Young's postgame media session may have hit a little too close to home for Kobe, who'd been under loads of scrutiny for his ball-stopping offense:
For what it's worth, Bryant has since embraced a better balance between scoring and facilitating, as evidenced by his 17-assist effort earlier this month. Even if Young is just digging at Kobe to get a rise out of the media and/or for fun, it might actually be having a positive impact.
Not only that, but Young—if we're to take him seriously—may have inadvertently created a version of Bryant that, in turn, could inspire him to share the ball a little more.
Baby steps, of course.
We're only halfway through the season, and as the Lakers slip further out of the playoff picture, we're going to need a reason to keep watching them. In this respect, Young serves a clear purpose.
"The fall of the Lakers has coincided with the rise of Swaggy P, who provides much-needed baskets and even more crucial comic relief," Lee Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated.
Young makes the Lakers fun in a sideshow kind of way, which is really the only way they can be fun at all at this point. And as long as he keeps confidently testing the limits of Bryant's sense of humor, they'll be worth following.