The towel draped over Nick Young’s head, masking something that very few have ever seen during his lone season with the Lakers.
He cried. He cursed. He winced.
It appears understandable Young wanted to cover up such raw emotions, something that contradicts his infectious smile, friendly personality and positive outlook on everything around him. But this seemed too much.
The Lakers’ 120-97 loss Sunday to the Clippers in a designated road game at Staples Center officially put this year’s purple and gold team tied with the 1974-75 squad boasting the worst record in franchise history in Los Angeles. The Lakers (25-52) would have to go undefeated through their five remaining games simply to tie the record held by the 1974-75 team (30-52). Meanwhile, Young felt soreness in his left knee while diving for a loose ball late in the third quarter. It took him a while to stand up on his own before eventually limping to the bench and then placing the towel over his face.
“A little bit of everything that’s going on,” Young said in explaining his emotions. “Pain, everybody getting hurt, just how the season’s been a little frustrating.”
It sure has.
The Lakers have been destined to miss the playoffs for two months. They have nursed way too many injuries to count, the latest including Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee), Steve Nash (nerve irritation in back), Xavier Henry (bone bruise in right knee, torn ligament in left wrist), Chris Kaman (strained right calf) and Jordan Farmar (strained right groin). Kent Bazemore also sprained his right foot after feeling a pop while handling the ball at the top of the key.
Yet, amid the negativity, Young vowed that he will play through both the sprained knee and the sprained left ankle he experienced earlier this week.
“I’m just going to go out with the ship and hang in there with the guys,” Young said. “It is what it is. But I’m trying to fight until the end. We only have five games left.”
Those games are otherwise meaningless.
But for most of the Lakers, these contests provide one last time to polish their free agency resume, to show they are worthy of staying with the Lakers, to show they deserve at least a spot on any NBA roster.
Young has become a fan favorite for reasons including his scoring punch (averaging 17.2 points per game, second best on the Lakers), his local roots (former Cleveland High and USC product) and his energetic personality. But Young faces uncertainty this offseason since he plans to opt out of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of finding a more longer and lucrative deal, preferably with the Lakers.
Young’s intentions stem more from wanting to cement his stature here and earning a salary more reflective of his market value than to simply pursue the most lucrative deal. So that puts Young in a position wanting to show his dedication to the Lakers.
That’s why he returned from a 16-game absence stemmed from a bone bruise in his left knee even if he still nursed considerable pain.
“Deep inside I wanted to come back regardless,” Young said. “I didn’t want to end my year just being hurt like that. I wanted to fight with these guys until the end.”
Yet, it has proven to become easier said than done.
Even before the Lakers suffered two new injuries, coach Mike D’Antoni already sensed his team knows “they’re up against a mountain today.” That’s because the Lakers would face a Clippers’ tandem in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and way too many talented role players. That’s because the Lakers entered the game fielding only a nine-man rotation. That’s because the Lakers already lost twice to the Clippers this season, including a franchise-worst 48-point loss last month. That’s because all these adversities have happened over and over again this season.
“You got to be careful because you get in these situations, it doesn’t help to swing wildly and just take everybody down,” D’Antoni said before the game. “You just got to get through it. You got to look for small victories. You got to look to the bright side of things and understand that it’s not pleasant for anybody to go through. Nobody wished this on anybody, but we got to band together and do the best we can and get to the next day and then live to fight another day, if that happens. You can’t control the future, but you can control what you do today.”
And that’s why once Young fought through his tears and obscenities, he dropped the towel and entered the game midway through the fourth quarter. He only lasted four minutes for precautionary reasons. But come Tuesday against Houston, Young vows to return. And this time, he plans to show a much different array of emotions, the smiles, competitive streak and optimistic outlook providing brightness during otherwise gloomy circumstances.