If the homecoming of Nick Young wasn’t the best of times and no one promised him it would be, it wasn’t the worst of times either. Nick Young had remarkable games and spectacular moments in 2013-14. Nick Young had sad games and terrible moments in 2013-14. He was the leading scorer on a talent deprived team that won 27 games and more often than not the Lakers seemed helpless even with him as their offensive crutch. Nick came off the bench to be the savior on a white horse except often he was the team’s biggest offender. When he did not pass the ball from one side of the floor to the other and when he turned the ball over simply by dribbling and when he took bad shots without being punished and when he did not chase rebounds off of his own misses and when his help defense was late, so late it seemed ridiculous to even call it defense- Nick Young added one more chapter to the Nick Young book.
Nick Young can go on scoring binges that compress moments into memories. You hold your breath. He can smile so exquisitely his face shines brighter than the lights streaming above him. He can crack his teammates up in the locker room and on the team plane and on the bench in the middle of a quarter in which something insane has just happened. He can go up against Lebron James as he did on Christmas Day and have a terrible shooting half and then a spectacular shooting half but not good enough for a win because he isn’t skilled enough to carry a team on his own. Nick can make you believe everything is okay when that is the biggest, boldest most egregious lie, everything is miserable. He can entertain and frustrate and lose focus and this is not new either, he can be exactly who he is, which for Nick Young, who is seeking a multi-year deal, is the biggest problem by far. He is not who everyone wants him to be. He is 6’7 like Kawhi Leonard. But he will never be Kawhi Leonard. He has a fade away jumper like James Harden. But he will never be James Harden. He has the enthusiasm of Dwight Howard but he will never dominate like Dwight Howard. Nick Young is what his history says he is: he is a specialist, someone who takes perimeter shots, who likes to score and be applauded and who applauds himself.
He has been here before, in this particular financial box. Even as it was a trial, he took less to get more. He signed a one year deal with Philadelphia in 2012 and it ended terribly when Doug Collins could not mold him into the two way player he can never, ever be. Looks can be deceiving, all players are not made equal. Just because they appear to resemble someone else does not mean they can transform into someone else. Signing with the Lakers freed Nick of a burden that Kobe always brings. The pressure was erased. But what Nick discovered in the aftermath, in the detritus, besides the built in pressure playing for the team you idolized all of your life, besides playing in the city you were raised in with your family and friends expecting things that are impossible to deliver, despite the fans embrace- once they see something dynamic they expect it again and again and again- losing repeatedly and with ridicule has a way of eroding confidence. It removed the joy by the time it was all over in April.
Close your eyes a little and it seems that Nick makes shots the way Kobe makes shots. Nick takes chances the way Kobe takes chances. But the talent is different, the motivation is different- Nick hates watching film- the work ethic is different, the thinking of the game is different. Kobe is a scorer and Nick is a shooter and that is different too. Nick Young is a role player who makes shots, has sketchy defense, is coachable if the coach isn’t consistently tearing him down, is a great teammate, has a joyous way of looking at the world because basketball isn’t everything, not to Nick.
So what Nick is worth on the open market is dependent on what is valued. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter. The Miami Heat could have used Nick’s recklessness and his proficiency on their second unit. But what has always made teams shake their head is Nick’s inattention to detail, his being in the wrong place at the wrong time, his defensive lapses, his not finishing through contact, the streaky nature to his shooting, his sometimes dumb plays. How consistent is he? How reliable is he? It is one thing if he is on a terrible team and is asked to do whatever. But he has only been to the playoffs twice.
For five games in June the San Antonio Spurs showcased the value of versatility. Their players put the ball on the floor and drove the lane. They made threes. They finished through contact. They passed up a good shot for a better shot. Their display of team concepts was extraordinary and set the bar as to what players not named Kobe, Lebron and Durant should be. None of which, Nick Young can fulfill. His ball handling is mediocre. He doesn’t like contact and doesn’t play at the rim. He is not a guard who posts up. He is an athlete who likes to stay on the perimeter and doesn’t get to the line, outside of his 4 point plays, because he doesn’t bait defenders into fouls. He is an offensive guy who doesn’t drive the ball and doesn’t share- that is what he has always been, a catch and shoot, a pull up three, a corner fade away player, that is what teams will be paying for. His career average for assists is 1 per game. Is that worth a three or four year deal? Or is it worth two years?
NBA contracts are moving into the direction of less years and more money as players are less versatile. There are a lot of NBA players who can do what Nick Young can do, shoot the ball from the perimeter. There are very few players who have Nick Young’s flair for entertainment and happiness, who just simply love to play the game. But how much is loving basketball really worth anymore?
Still, everyone saw what happened last year in the season of woe. Mike D’antoni depended on Nick and Nick never gave up, not once. It was a great year for him; he was coachable. He played with incredible effort even as things deteriorated from bad to worse to oh-my-God-this-is-the-worst-season in Los Angeles Lakers history. Nick rarely complained though his habit of hanging his head as he went through games and missed shots in bunches continued.
The high pick and roll game every team depends on needs shooters to space the floor. Nick Young’s representatives will field offers because the modern game is built on three point shooting. Charlotte needs shooters. So does Detroit. And Milwuakee. And Chicago. And Utah. This is where Nick has leverage. If the Lakers are interested they have a built in advantage because Nick want to stay; he does. But he is not going to low ball himself by taking crumbs for the third year in a row and frankly, why would he? Why would he do that after two years of being undervalued?
Last year, Mitch Kupchak talked about signing Nick Young long term. He said it before the season took a turn for the worse and everything good went suddenly dark, like all the electricity went out. But putting faith in anything the Lakers said six months ago is a waste of time. The Lakers so called plans are muddy at best. They still don’t have a head coach or a staff and Jim Buss does not engender confidence. Who are they going to draft? Who are they going to sign as free agents?
Nick Young playing for the Lakers seems like a long shot just as much as it seems possible but how much are they going to offer him? A two year deal probably won’t get it done but that may be the only deal they are willing to make. And it just might happen that his first year with the Lakers will be his only year. As homecomings go it was great, it was a solar eclipse, it was bright through the dark sky, mesmerizing. Look for few minutes and be enthralled. Be amazed. Be happy. And then when it is gone, remember what it all felt like when Nick Young was here, once upon a time.