His loud voice carried across the Lakers’ practice facility. His wide smile instantly created positive energy. His playfulness instantly created laughs among teammates, coaches and reporters alike.
The Lakers will begin training camp on Tuesday, hoping that a healthier Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, Byron’s coaching staff and renewed hunger will scrub away the stench from last season’s 27-55 record, the tram’s worst record in L.A. franchise history. But when it comes toward providing colorful quotes, Nick Young already appears in mid-season form.
After endlessly photobombing teammates’ interviews and playfully talking trash to them during the Lakers’ Media Day on Monday, Young opened up his interview with a heavy dose of bravado.
“I’m feeling great,” said Young, in high spirits two months after the Lakers signed him to a four-year, $24 million deal. “I’m a star. That’s about it.”
Young was just getting started.
After leading the team last season averaging 16.8 points per game, Young joked he has served as a mentor for Kobe Bryant. Forget about Bryant’s five NBA championships or his fourth place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. Apparently, Bryant needs some pointers after playing in only six games last season amid overlapping injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee.
“Kobe worked out with me. I didn’t work out with him. He came to me,” Young said, laughing. “I was showing Kobe the ropes this summer. Just breaking out plays the way he can score in the offense. I had a sitdown coach Byron Scott telling him how he should play.”
So what feedback did Scott and Young provide for Bryant?
“Just a little bit of stuff about defense and we need some guys in the back in case I get blown by,” Young said. “We need somebody to block some shots. That’s about that. [Kobe’s] buying in. I’m glad I could talk to Boozer about it and take some charges and block some shots.”
In reality, Young conceded that Bryant lit him up on defense in a game of five-on-five last week that left the Lakers encouraged about his recovery.
“I was jaw jacking and going back and forth and I fouled him and he made it,” Young said. “I was impressed with that moment. He started off on a rookie and he got him hot. That’s like somebody scored five in a row and then he scored the last seven on me. That’s kind of bad.”
In reality, Scott has stressed to Young that he better focus on defense. He made some relative improvement last season, even taking a game-winning charge in a regular-season game in November against Detroit.
“I might try to win defensive player of the year,” Young said. I” got robbed last year. I’ll take a couple of charges and might dive like Dennis Rodman.”
Yet, it sounds like Young wants to delegate.
“I triedm but my back is hurting. Last year, I was out a lot,” said Young, who I’m trying to stay healthy. I’ll leave that to Julius [Randle] or Jordan Clarkson, the rookies. They have young, fresh bodies.
Apparently, their duties go beyond playing defense. Young has ordered them to address him with various version of his nickname, “Swaggy P.”
“Clarkson has to call me Daddy Swag,” Young said. “Julius has to call me Uncle Swag. It’s a family affair. It’s rookie duties. I have to start them out with something.”
It seems like it has caught on with the Lakers even listing Young as “Swaggy” in their depth chart.
“It’s been crazy. Sometimes in the streets, people say Swaggy,” Young said. “I like to hear Nick sometimes or Nicolas. When [my mom] gets mad at me, she says, ‘I don’t care what they call you.’
Young kept laughing and laughing as he delivered these gems. But underneath his playful exterior was a man somewhat worried about his future despite becoming a fan favorite and the Lakers Nation Web site promoting a billboard campaign pleading him to stay. Young opted out of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of a longer and more lucrative deal with the Lakers. Yet, the 6-year NBA veteran sensed uneasiness about his future when the Lakers pursued Carmelo Anthony, a prolific scorer at small forward that visited the team’s facility in early July for a 2 1/2 hour meeting.
“Melo had me worried. I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Young said. “I knew Lala liked LA. So women always have the final say sometimes. I knew it would be over for me. But I’m here. I feel like the chemistry I have with Kobe and Nash would be good. I felt good, but at the same time, I didn’t know.”
Plenty of uncertainty awaits on how long these feel-good vibes will last. The general public remains skeptical that even a Bryant comeback would prove enough to propel these Lakers into the playoffs. And with that, Young suddenly turned serious.
“At the end of the day, we still don’t have the respect we want,” Young said. “That’s something we still have to gain. People still doubt what we’re doing right now.”
Except for perhaps one thing. Through the good or the bad, Young will at least keep this season entertaining.