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Nick Young Trade Would Mean Los Angeles Lakers Gambling Their Depth Away

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2015

Portland Trail Blazers' Steve Blake (25) defends against Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday Feb. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

During the opening weeks of the 2015 free-agency process, trade rumors swirled around Nick Young—that the shot-happy swingman might not be long for the Land of the Los Angeles Lakers.

But unloading Young could also wreak havoc with L.A.’s depth chart.

In April, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News reported on the potential of Young’s exit, writing that "the Lakers will entertain offers for him, according to a team official familiar with the front office’s thinking."

More recently, that reliable soothsayer of basketball transactions, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, weighed in:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Yahoo Sources: As Lakers work to clear cap space to sign free agents and absorb HIbbert, Nick Young is a strong candidate to be unloaded.

The news of Swaggy P's demise may have been exaggerated, however. Or perhaps the Lakers front office simply couldn’t find any takers.

That would seem to be the gist of things, according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

Bill Oram @billoram

Heard today Lakers have no plans to trade Nick Young. Called around seeking suitors so they could clear cap room quickly. Didn't materialize

And that’s OK, because gambling away depth at the wing isn’t such a wise move, especially without getting back something of the same in return. 

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In fact, Young isn’t that long removed from his breakout 2013-14 season in L.A, which led to a new four-year $21.5 million contract.

Young was a fan favorite during that first season in L.A.; he was a hometown player and USC standout who joined the purple and gold after stints with the Washington WizardsLos Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. The effervescent scorer was a bright spot in a season characterized by too many losses and capped off by the exodus of Mike D’Antoni.

It was as if embracing the Swaggy P persona represented the antithesis of the apathy shown toward Dwight Howard the season before. There could be no denying that Young really wanted to be in Los Angeles—he celebrated each made bucket like a triumphant playoff win.

But now, after a disappointing year under new head coach Byron Scott, the 30-year-old free-wheeler will have to head back to square one if he’s going to be a meaningful part of the rotation—so says general manager Mitch Kupchak, per the team’s official Twitter account: 

Los Angeles Lakers @Lakers

Kupchak on Nick Young: "He has to convince our coaching staff that he can play within our system & that doesn’t just mean scoring the ball."

Part of Young’s down year was beyond his control—he tore a ligament in his shooting hand during training camp, which subsequently required surgery. He played just 42 games—most of them unsatisfactorily—after returning, before fracturing his kneecap.

The injury ended a season that got off to a delayed start, and ultimately, it was a disappointing first year for Young and his new contract.

Nick Young's stats over last three seasons
YEARMPG3PT%REBASTPPGPER-36PPG
2012-1323.9.3572.21.410.616.0
2013-1428.3.3862.61.517.922.8
2014-1523.8.3692.31.013.420.3
Basketball-Reference.com

Swaggy was well-suited to the run-and-gun system favored by former Lakers coach D’Antoni. He wasn’t a good fit with Scott’s defense-first philosophy, however, or the new coach’s penchant for a Princeton-based offense that is heavy on screen actions.

Young’s chances for redemption this season are also further complicated by the recent signing of Lou Williams—the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and a combo guard who loves to score the ball.

Place Young, Williams and Kobe Bryant on the same squad, and you have a trio of veterans who never met a shot they didn’t like. Even Jordan Crawford would struggle for shots on this team.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

But at 6’1”, Williams won’t be of any help on the wing, a position of need for the Lakers. The 6'7" Young and second-round rookie Anthony Brown (6’8") are the only players slotted in at small forward. There’s also a good possibility that Bryant will spend time shifting over from shooting guard to the 3, as noted by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan

Plenty to happen before opening night, but D'Angelo, Clarkson and Kobe will probably play together, Byron said. In other words, Kobe = SF

Bryant, who’s entering his 20th and likely final season in the NBA, has been beset by injuries in recent years, however. Relying on him for heavy minutes would be unwise, and his new role would be temporary at best. It would also be a major issue on the defensive end of the floor. 

It should also be pointed out that Young wasn’t exactly a train wreck last season—his per-36 stats were the second-highest of his eight seasons in the league. But even if numbers show that this season wasn’t a horrific outlier, it’s hard to ignore his determination to chuck up some of the most sublimely improbable shots imaginable.

That’s still no reason to embrace a salary dump with nothing in return. That's a move that a talent-strapped franchise can’t afford to make.

Yet, there is also no doubt that Young deserves to be in the dog house now—he has been far too lackadaisical when it comes to picking up on Scott’s principles. That subject came up for discussion when Young sat down with his coach during an exit meeting at season’s end.

"We needed to sit down and talk about what was going on this whole year," Young said, per Lakers.com video, "and I think that was cool."

Asked about areas of improvement that Scott wanted, Young replied, "I don’t need to dribble that much but if I have to, I will always have that in my back pocket. (I need) to learn how to make that pass and make that play."

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Making the extra pass has never been Young’s strong suit—his bread and butter in the league has been as an instant offense player off the bench. Is it reasonable to believe he’ll change his stripes now?

That’s debatable. But at the very least, he can provide depth at a critical position. And it also wouldn’t hurt for Scott to loosen the reins a bit with all his players during his second season.

The Lakers will no doubt continue to consider trade options, and Young’s name will keep coming up.

But given Bryant’s age and injury history and Brown’s status as an untested newbie, it would be smart to keep Swaggy P around for another season.

Or at least until a better substitute becomes available.

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