Af­ter years of los­ing, Young gets new start

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By Con­nor Le­tourneau

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

Michael Ma­cor / The Chron­i­cle

Steve Kerr said Nick Young, above, “looked much more com­fort­able” at Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice.

Michael Ma­cor / The Chron­i­cle

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.

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