With every joke and laugh, Nick Young’s positive energy oozed through the phone as frequently as one of his scoring binges that made him a rare bright spot during a dreary Lakers’ season.
The man who calls himself “Swaggy P” just came off a recent vacation in Cabo, Mexico. The man who entertained Lakers fans with his infectious personality plans to travel Thursday for a weekend trip in London where he insists he is modeling a fashion show. But underneath those fun and seemingly care-free times entails some uncertainty Young will experience in hopes to maximize his contract.
Though he considers the Lakers “his first choice,” Young will opt out of his $1.2 million player option before the June 25 deadline. That would allow Young both to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent beginning July 1 and possibly leverage a larger deal with the Lakers. Young sounded specific with what he hoped the Lakers could offer after averaging a team-leading 17.9 points on 43.4 percent shooting primarily as a backup forward.
“Just more years. I believe I deserve more,” Young said Wednesday in an interview with this newspaper. “That’s up to my agent to do that for me. The Lakers are home, but things could happen. With free agency this year, it’s going to be crazy to see.”
The Lakers have only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre signed for the 2014-15 season, leaving them with up to 12 players they will need to fill on the roster. The Lakers will reserve one of those spots presumably for their seventh pick of the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26. But what about Young?
“I think I could stick to my same role and help out Kobe,” Young said. “He has to come out of the game sometime. If they get another good player, they have to come out of the game sometime. I’ll be their Jamal Crawford. The Clippers have a Sixth Man of the Year. The Lakers need to have one too.”
The Lakers generally like Young for his prolific scoring, positive attitude and entertainment value. Case in point, Lakers Nation, a fan site, promoted a so-called “Stay Swag” campaign that Young called “dope.” But the Lakers feel reluctant to offer any role player, such as Young, more than a one-year deal. The Lakers want to maximize cap flexibility to pursue high profile players, such as LeBron James in 2014, Kevin Love in 2015 or Kevin Durant in 2016.
Young did not outline what dollar figure he wanted, though he joked he told Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak that he needs “two years at $50 million to come back.” The Lakers signed Bryant for the next two years worth $48.5 million. Young sounded serious about considering a hometown discount.
“It depends how much the discount is,” Young said. “But as a player, everyone wants a place they feel comfortable at. I feel comfortable in L.A. But I can’t keep taking these discounts. I need a raise a little bit. But if it’s for the right cost and they’re bringing in players and I fit into the rotation, then I’ll probably take a pay cut.”
Not to make things more complicated, but the Lakers also need a coach after Mike D’Antoni resigned in late April. The Lakers have interviewed a flurry of veteran coaches, such as Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Alvin Gentry and Lionel Hollins. But the Lakers may not have a coach before the NBA Draft. They may not even have one until after free agency begins.
Yet, Young’s future, like any member of the Lakers’ supporting cast, will partly hinge on who the Lakers hire. They would like to match players that would fit their future coach’s system.
“I want to see who they hire as a coach,” said Young, though he offered no preference for who the Lakers might hire. “That’s what everybody wants to see. I don’t think any player wants to come in when there’s no coaching staff. They might need to do that before free agency starts in order to get anybody. It’s going to be tough.”
Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, declined to provide the same amount of specificity Young detailed about his pending free agency. But Bartelstein argued Young will spark “a lot of interest” from other teams while also stressing his affection for the Lakers after starring at Cleveland High and USC.
“He obviously loves the Lakers and demonstrated that over the years,” Bartelstein said. “I think the feeling is mutual. But what happens is when you get into free agency, things move quickly. There’s a domino effect to everything. For every action, there is a reaction. We’ll deal with that when we get there.”
So for now, Young will stay optimistic about his preference to roll the dice with his Lakers’ future.
“If they want you there, they’ll get you,” Young said. “They’ll find a way. I want to make sure I’m a priority on someone’s team. I feel that from L.A. but we have to see how it goes on July 1.”