His infectious smile shows off Nick Young’s happy-go-lucky mindset. But his purple and rose colored eyes stemmed from growing up here in Los Angeles shows everything on how Young views the basketball landscape.
That’s why he considered it “disrespectful” that Clippers coach Doc Rivers proved instrumental in convincing the franchise to feature posters of their players that cover up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys during home games. That’s partly why Young signed with the Lakers to a two-year, $2.3 million deal with a team option for the second second. And that’s why even if he describes his half-season stint with the Clippers as “fun” and called them a “deep squad,” he still considers the Lakers superior to them.
“It was fun. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed it,” said Young, who played for the Clippers for 22 games after being traded from Washington during the 2011-12 season. “But the feeling of being a Laker is much different. The atmosphere is crazy and the fans are better. The Clippers are like our little brothers.”
Sure, the Lakers’ 16 NBA titles still proves vastly superior to the Clippers’ zero championships. For all the talk surrounding the Clippers’ emergence, both L.A. teams lost last season in the first-round. Still, a tandem featuring Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and a deep bench surely trumpets the Lakers. They face never-ending uncertainty with Kobe Bryant’s left Achilles’ tendon, Steve Nash’s fight against Father Time and Mother Nature and a lacking a defensive identity after losing Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace this offseason. Clippers coach Doc Rivers also has more championship credentials than Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
“You always have a little brother trying to challenge you and say they’re better than you,” Young said. “It has that feel. They balling. They have a deep squad and will be all right. But on that court, you never know what will happen.”
Still, Young, a former Cleveland High and USC product, holds fond memories for wearing the Clippers’ red and blue.
He was part of a three-team trade with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets, where JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf went to the Nuggets for Nene, while Washington received Brian Cook and a future second-round pick from the Clipper. He averaged 9.7 points in 23.5 minutes in 22 games, including three as a starter, a relative dropoff from the 11.3 points he has averaged in his six-year career.
“The first time I got out there, they threw me into the fire,” Young said. “I played off the bench more. It was hard to adjust. But I got used to rolling it. It was such a good team. I enjoyed playing with those guys.”
It coincided with Young making his second postseason appearance. He played a large part in the Clippers overcoming a 29-point deficit in a Game 1 upset of their eventual seven-game first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies by scoring a team-high 19 points, including three consecutive three-pointers in the final two minutes. Through 11 playoff games, Young also averaged 8.3 points on 43.2 percent shooting in 18.18 minutes per game.
“During the playoffs, the atmosphere was especially fun,” Young said. “Being a part of that team was great. But now I’m on the other side. They’re my rival now.”
Now that he is, Young will try to play a part in upsetting the Clippers Tuesday in the team’s season opener at Staples Center in a designated home game with a clear job description. His 13.1 points on 43.3 percent shooting ranks second on the team behind Pau Gasol (13.7 points). With Bryant still sidelined with his Achilles’ tendon, Young will become the primary shot-creator.
Still, D’Antoni offered up Young’s deeply rooted efficiencies.
“His defense is better, but he has to get a lot better,” D’Antoni said. “He moves the ball. He’s got a few assists. Those are things he has to have to become a good talent and a winning basketball player.
“It’s not shotmaking and it’s not creating shots. He does that and is done that. But there is a reason why he is here for the money he is here for. The reason for that is his defense, ball movement and overall intensity has to keep improving. But I think he’s made an effort and that he has improved it.”
Young has also made an effort to ingratiate himself with the purple and gold, leaving him convinced the Lakers still maintain the best team in L.A. even if the talent says otherwise.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org