The storyline seems all too perfect.
An L.A. native returns back home so he can play for the Lakers. He gushes about playing along his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. The player enthusiastically dons the purple and gold uniform even if it means playing at a low salary.
Yes, all those elements emerged when former USC and Cleveland High of Reseda standout Nick Young left the Philadelphia 76ers and signed a two-year, $2.3-million deal with a player option in his second season to play with the Lakers. But it doesn’t tell the complete story.
Young and the Lakers expressed mutual interest last season, too. But those talks never materialized into anything.
“They had Dwight [Howard], [Steve] Nash and Antawn Jamison,” Young said in an interview with this newspaper recently after playing in the Drew League at King-Drew Magnet High School in downtown Los Angeles. “I didn’t want to just be another guy on the bench. I felt like I wouldn’t have been a good fit.”
Chalk up Young’s arrival to Los Angeles to good timing, too.
He said he had sparked interest from both the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings. But Young viewed Dallas’ eventual acquisition in guard Monta Ellis and Sacramento’s reported interest in him as signals that neither partnership would work.
“I didn’t want to sit around and wait on what was going to happen,” Young said. “I felt like this would be a good opportunity.”
He has plenty of good reasons to feel that way.
The Lakers hope Young’s scoring mentality will help absorb Kobe Bryant’s possible absence to open the season stemmed from his torn left Achilles tendon. On a team full of veteran-laden players with little speed, Young’s freakish athleticism and age (28) suddenly makes this team more capable of running Mike D’Antoni’s system at a faster pace. And Young said he “definitely” saw the Lakers waiving Metta World Peace through the amnesty provision as a clear sign they want him to have a significant role.
In case Young didn’t see any of this writing on the wall, both Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni talked with Young in a meeting he described as “all positive.”
“He was telling me to play my game,” Young said of Kupchak. “When I talked with the coach, he said the same thing. They’re looking for young athletic guys out there. They just said for me to ball.”
Young provided a good glimpse of his skills when he led MHP to a 85-84 victory Saturday over the Jaguars. He won Drew League Player of the Week honors by posting a team-high 43 points on 12 of 25 shooting, a 15 of 17 clip from the foul line and eight rebounds.
He showcased his ability to split the defense when he drove in for a one-handed dunk on one play and snuck into the lane for a putback on another. Young made two clutch free throws to secure a 85-84 lead with 7.1 seconds left in overtime. Even after missing three-pointer late in regulation, Young raced to the other end of the court and blocked
what would’ve been a game-winning layup.
Young showed some of his weaknesses, too.
Young missed a baseline jumper that could’ve won the game after making his game-saving block. He committed five turnovers. After coughing up the ball on one possession, Young didn’t run back on defense whatsoever.
“For me, I try to get in shape,” Young said, “and do things I can do on the court and work on things without trying my hardest.”
Young will have to try his hardest with the Lakers.
Dwight Howard’s departure to the Houston Rockets coupled with World Peace’s absence leaves the Lakers without two defensive anchors on a team that already ranked 21st overall in total defense. The Lakers feature a coach who hardly has a solid defensive reputation (D’Antoni). They have a player whose inconsistent off-ball defense overshadows his effective on-ball defending (Bryant). They boast an otherwise elite point guard who’s considered too slow (Nash).
Young offered a hearty laugh regarding the Lakers’ anticipated defensive shortcomings.
“I guess we’re going to just run and gun,” Young said with a smile. “It is what it is. But look at Golden State. We’ll be all right.”
The Warriors ranked only 19th in total defense last season, but had much more youth in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson to make them one of the NBA’s seventh best offense. Incidentally, the Lakers ranked sixth, though the offense lacked consistency because of overlapping injuries and competing coach and player agendas.
“I believe we’ll be all right,” said Young, who averaged 11.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and one assist in six seasons, including one year with the Clippers. “We’ll have a shot at the title. We like to be the underdog. We can sneak in when no one expects much from us. It should spark some energy and some motivation. We have a lot to prove. For me, I know I’m going to be on the biggest stage there is in the NBA.”
Young resisted that spotlight last season namely because he believed he wouldn’t stand under the lights as much he’d like. But with the Lakers in dire need of a supporting cast ensuring a strong production, Young will gladly try to help this once storied franchise avoid traveling down the road toward mediocrity.
Said Young: “I’m ready for it.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org