After years of losing, Young gets new start
The man known as Swaggy P doesn’t want for much. A decade into his NBA career, Nick Young has so many sneakers they require their own building, a fleet of luxury automobiles, a wardrobe stocked with designer brands, a worldwide fan base and a dating history that includes Iggy Azalea.
“I think I’d be more Swaggy P with a ring than anything, though,” Young said with a grin Wednesday after Warriors practice.
He is the rare NBA player who has experienced more tabloid frenzies than playoff appearances. Now pushing the limits of his prime at age 32, Young hopes to prove that the self-professed “Savior of Swag” can be instrumental in a championship locker room.
Three months ago, after a convincing pitch from head coach Steve Kerr and forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Young took a pay cut to sign a one-year, $5.2 million deal with Golden State. While many front offices saw a player more famous for his alter ego than his performance, the Warriors saw an elite shooter who could benefit from a winning culture.
Less than a week before the season opener, Golden State’s Swaggy P experiment has encountered some hiccups.
Young arrived at training camp noticeably heavy. Though he played in a similar system last season under Kerr protege Luke Walton with the Lakers, the career 41.9 percent shooter has been slow to grasp the backdoor cuts foundational to the Warriors’ offense.
Late in last Thursday’s exhibition in Shenz-
hen, China, after going 1-for-5 from three-point range, Young fell awkwardly on a rebound attempt and bruised his right hip. Missing basketball activities for the rest of the China trip has set him back further.
Several hours after a shortened practice Tuesday, Young returned to the gym to hoist jumpers on his own. Kerr pulled him aside before practice Wednesday to remind Young of the challenges that come with being on a deep team: Unlike past years, when he could let shots fly without risk of being pulled, Young will need to maximize his minutes.
“Nick had a really good day today,” Kerr later told reporters. “I think he understands it’s never easy going to a new team, especially after you’ve been in the league for 10 years — a new environment, new teammates, all that stuff. He looked much more comfortable today.”
Young is accustomed to reclamation projects. As a young gunner on awful Wizards teams, his biggest mentor was Gilbert Arenas, who, midway through Young’s third NBA season, received a felony weapons charge for bringing four guns into the locker room following a heated argument with teammate Javaris Crittenton. During his four years with the Lakers, Young spent the prime of his career losing in the name of another youth movement.
Of the 651 NBA games he has played, 15 have come in the playoffs. Only once, in 2012 with the Clippers, has Young played past the first round. His career winning percentage is 32.5.
Being on mostly inept teams has hardly helped his reputation. Though none of Young’s antics have been particularly harmful, many view him as a gunner allergic to passing. What they overlook is that he made significant strides last season as a passer, defender and leader. In 16 of the Lakers’ final 17 games, with a playoff berth out of reach, Young didn’t complain while Walton gave his minutes to younger players.
“With everything I’ve been through,” Young said, “I think (a championship) would be the ultimate accomplishment for me.”
During their Wizards days, Young and JaVale McGee co-hosted a YouTube show. Its most lasting contribution? A 2011 segment in which they tried the “cinnamon challenge.” Young swallowed the spoonful of cinnamon while barely grimacing; McGee did not.
Over the past six years, the two have remained close. In June, after winning his first championship with Golden State, McGee sat in the back seat of a Maybach as his driver took him to Young’s mansion. When Young came to the street, McGee rolled down the window and, with a grin, said: “What’s up, loser?”
It’s a label Young plans to shed this season.
“I think I’d be more Swaggy P with a ring than anything.” Nick Young, Warriors guard
Steve Kerr said Nick Young, above, “looked much more comfortable” at Wednesday’s practice.
Nick Young (left) is guarded by Kevin Durant during practice Wednesday. In his 10-year career, Young has advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once.