When Nick Young was originally signed by the Lakers, I had my questions about pursuing him in the first place but mostly hoped that his ability to create shots combined with the relative value of his contract would make him a nice enough signing. Young wen out and surprised under then coach Mike D’Antoni, providing what was pretty much the best season of his career. This led to him being re-signed this past summer to a deal that I was more skeptical about then his original contract with the team:
That said, I am not in love with this deal. Young is already 29 and, if the above report is true, the 4th season is a player option. Maybe a 32 year old Swaggy P decides he wants to test the market one last time before his contract expires, but that seems doubtful to me. In essence, then, the Lakers are paying Young roughly $5 million a year for the next four years. As much as an argument could be made for paying a bench scorer of his caliber this much money, his age makes it more of a gamble than, say, if he were even two years younger.
At this stage of his career, Young is what he is as a player and, to this point this year, he’s shown a regression off last season’s numbers. He’s turned back into more of the inefficient gunner he was with the Wizards and has offered fewer of the big games that he offered a year ago. In a way, then, my concerns about his contract and whether he could maintain his production have turned out to have some merit.
In saying all that, however, Young has been more fun to root for than I ever could have imagined. He loves being a Laker, always has a smile on his face, does not back down from anyone, and does it all with a confidence that, even when unfounded, helps create a fun environment. Beyond that, his teammates love him and he brings a levity to a season that doesn’t offer very much of it.
Now that he’s a Laker, Young has become somewhat of a household name. Due to the status of the team’s brand, he’s playing on national TV a lot, he dates one of the worlds most recognized music stars, and his aforementioned personality makes people gravitate to him. With that, it’s no surprise that Sports Illustrated decided they would dedicate a feature to Young. And, boy, is it good. The great Lee Jenkins got great access to Young and gives us insight into the player, the man, and what has made him what he is today.
In preschool Nick was already picking out his own clothes — scarred by the memory of an alligator-print shirt his mom once made him wear — and accompanying his oldest brother, Charles Jr., on dates. Junior, 17 years older than Nick, was like his second father. He worked at the Hamilton High cafeteria and rushed home every day with extra cookies. By the time Nick turned five, Junior was engaged and his fiancée pregnant. He was taking a class at Jim Gilliam Recreation Center, and after he finished one day his fiancée was waiting to pick him up in the parking lot. She heard the shots. A 14-year-old Blood, who went by the name Trouble, mistook Junior for a rival gang member and killed him.
The family splintered. One brother, John, suffered a breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Another brother, Andre, moved to Milwaukee to live with his paternal grandmother. Charles and Mae tried to preserve Nick’s childhood. Charles, by then a truck driver, took him on two-week cross-country trips and paid him $200 per haul. Mae played hide-and-seek with his Fruit Roll?Ups and challenged him to rap battles in the living room. Nick saw how they disguised their grief. He liked to draw, particularly caricatures, usually of himself. He sketched self-portraits with a massive head on a tiny body. They made everybody laugh. Nick brought the caricature to life, becoming the clown prince of Robertson Park, dribbling balls off opponents’ heads, sliding across the court, sinking improbable shots and then sprinting out of the gym. This was the And1 era, and Nick acted like he was auditioning for the street-ball tour. “He talked so much jazz,” recalls Nick’s brother Terrell. “He’d start all these fights, and I’d have to finish them.” Cedric Ceballos, an L.A. native who spent 11 years in the NBA, was a summer regular at Robertson. “If that boy ever gets serious,” Ceballos told Terrell, “he’ll be something.”
There’s so much more to Jenkins’ profile and it is well worth your time. Young may not be what all of us want him to be on the court and there’s a group of folks whose ire will always be drawn by his antics. But, in a season that offers Lakers’ losses at a historic rate, Young can be a nice reprieve from the down moments.