The way Nick Young tells it, the Lakers have a pretty simple solution on how to make up for Kobe Bryant likely missing the rest of the 2014-15 season once he has surgery on Wednesday to repair his right shoulder.
“Pretty much just give me the ball and get out the way,” Young said.
If only were it that easy.
The Lakers would have issues with anyone trying to replace Bryant’s skillset. Even if he shot a career-low 37.3 percent from the field, Bryant still averaged 22.3 points and 5.6 assists either as a high-volume shooter or an efficient distributor.
Young? His 14.4 points per game average only trails behind Bryant on the team. But Young has shot 32.2 percent in the last month. He played only nine minutes in Sunday’s loss to Houston because of Byron Scott’s frustration with his body language and effort. Young also suffered a moderately sprained right ankle in Monday’s practice that leaves him listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game against Washington.
“I’ll go out there and see what happens,” said Young, who rolled his ankle after rookie guard Jordan Clarkson accidentally stepped on it during a scrimmage. “I’m a soldier. I roll with the punches.”
That apparently includes Young’s recent benching that entailed missing the entire second half in Sunday’s loss against the Rockets.
“The message I was sending [Sunday] night was, ‘You basically didn’t look like you wanted to play,'” Scott said. “‘You weren’t defending. You were just standing around.’ He was throwing the ball all over the place. So I chose not to play him, because if you look disinterested, with body language and things like that, to me you don’t want to play.”
Young did not speak to reporters after Sunday’s loss. After Monday’s practice, Young played the diplomatic card on Scott’s critique. Said Young: “He’s the coach and he’s seeing what he’s seeing. It’s not my place to get into that.”
Then he did.
“There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t want to be out on the court,” Young said. “I love being here and love playing basketball. I get a joy out of playing and seeing the fans and hearing them chant ‘Swaggy P.’ That’s what drives me. He’s seeing what he’s seeing. I’m not in no situation to go back and forth with the coach. I would never play. That’s his judgment.”
Scott called this issue a “one-game thing” and reported Young being “energetic” during Monday’s practice. But Scott had said in the past week that he would decrease Young’s playing time if he did not compensate his recent shooting struggles with better effort in practice preparation, defense and hustle plays. Young showed progress in recent games before Sunday’s game reared its ugly head.
Young said his lack of focus mostly stemmed from the Lakers (12-33) amid a season-worst eight-game losing streak.
“Losing can catch up to you,” Young said. “I’m still a human being and still trying to go out there and fight. At the same time, you get tired of getting beat up. It can catch up to you.”
Once Young played nine minutes for the first time since Dec. 21, 2012 with the Philadelphia 76ers, a new wave of negative emotions emerged.
“It was very frustrating,” Young said. “It brought back old memories of being a rookie. But it happens. He wants the best for me and came in today of having the mindset of not having any negative energy and trying to keep my upbeat self.”
That explains why Young said he briefly talked with Scott and plans to have more unspecified dialogue. That also explains why Young sounded eager both in figuring out how to fight double teams and carry a larger role with Bryant out of the lineup.
“It’s tough,” Young said. “But we have to go out there and still fight and still have to give fans a show. It’s a chance for other people to step up now and a lot of players on this team with contracts. Even though it’s tough for Kobe, it’s a blessing in disguise for other people to go out there and get a chance. We have to take full advantage of it.”
That includes himself.
“Big responsibility,” Young said. “I have to go out there and play to the best of my abilities every night.”