Lakers project Nick Young sidelined for eight weeks after thumb surgery

The smile stayed wide on Nick Young’s face just moments before having surgery on Monday to treat a torn ligament in his right thumb. But even if Young still maintained his positive attitude as shown on his Instagram account, it does not camouflage the disheartening news just as the Lakers begin a two-week stretch of exhibition games.

Young will stay sidelined for at least eight weeks, the Lakers estimate, wiping the team’s top reserve out for all eight preseason contests and the first 14 games of the 2014-15 regular season. Tht means it’s possible Young could return as early as Nov. 26 when the Lakers host the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.

The Lakers had the weekend to process the potential devastation. After an MRI showed on Friday that Young tore a ligament in his right wrist, his agent Mark Bartelstein anticipated his client remaining absent for anywhere between six to eight weeks. Lakers coach Byron Scott then reported on Sunday that it is possible Young would return within four to six weeks.

Regardless, the Lakers lose a player Scott envisioned as an NBA sixth man of the year candidate after Young averaged a team-high 17.9 points per game. The Lakers believed Young’s improved conditioning, ongoing commitment to defense and partnership with Kobe Bryant would make the man known as Swaggy P even a more lethal threat.

It is not clear how long it will take for him before progressing back to on-court exercises. But Lakers coach Byron Scott required Young to work on conditioning and defensive drills on Saturday and to practice ball handling drills with his left hand on Sunday.

The Lakers’ small forward spot has become remarkably thin. Wesley Johnson is expected to start at small forward in the Lakers’ preseason opener Monday against the Denver Nuggets at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, but the team lacks a number of reserves including Young, Ryan Kelly (strained left hamstring) and Xavier Henry (back spasms).

Scott hopes Kelly can resume practicing on Thursday. But Scott reported Henry has stayed “stiff” and has stayed confined toward shooting drills. Bryant will likely play more minutes at the small forward position, while Jordan Clarkson and Wayne Ellington could have chances at that slot as well.

Young’s injury stemmed from him trying to steal the ball from Bryant during Thursday’s scrimmage. But Young’s thumb collided with Bryant’s elbow, the damage not immediately known until a day later.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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