With Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams now officially in the fold and a group of youngsters in Vegas forming one of the most highly anticipated Summer League squads in recent memory, things have settled down for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the roster’s edges may need smoothing, and Mitch Kupchak’s gig basically requires he never turn off his phone. However, save an unexpectedly substantive shakeup, it appears the heavy lifting is mostly done.
Except one matter. It’s time to trade Nick Young.
To a certain degree, this is a matter of redundancy. Williams is essentially the same player as Young, except smaller, slightly (and I do mean, ever… so… slightly) more responsible in his shot selection, and without Iggy Azalea in tow. Them sharing a second unit, or even occasionally as a trio with Kobe, is a fistfight over the ball waiting to happen. Although I would personally make the three play as much as possible together because I am a huge fan of unintentional comedy, it’s a horribly impractical comedic premise. With Kobe slated to start at the three, and the emphasis that must be placed on player development, assuming he’s reasonably capable of NBA minutes, it arguably makes more sense to get Anthony Brown’s feet wet right away. This in turn leaves Young on the outside looking in, and he’s too big a personality (and frankly, too prideful) to exist on the periphery.
Most of all, Young and Byron Scott don’t get along, and I don’t picture them ever getting along. Never say never, of course. Most people, myself included, never thought a second go-around for Kobe and Phil Jackson could ever possibly work. Middle ground is sometimes discovered when least expected. But this feels like tough sledding, especially when you consider Young is coming off a terrible season that only further entrenched him in Scott’s doghouse. (Injuries certainly played a role in Swaggy’s struggles, but I’m guessing Byron would have had more sympathy for a player with a less outsized personality.)
In a way, the lion’s share of fault for this impasse lies neither with Young nor Scott, but with the front office for going out of their way to mix oil and water. There’s no question Swaggy was re-signed in part because he became a fan favorite during his first season in L.A. Roughly 96 percent of any fun mined from that slog centered around Young, and management surely wanted to hedge its bets by keeping their clown prince in town. While it periodically appears like the small forward doesn’t quite know how to turn off the “Swaggy P” persona (assuming he even can distinguish where they begin and end anymore), that persona is precisely WHY he was retained in the first place.
Except here’s the thing. Management committed to Young while simultaneously committing to Scott, among the oldest school and hardest assed coaches in the league. Save their mutual ties to Los Angeles and both having made a living as professional basketball players, these two men have precious little in common. A behavioral psychologist is needed to anticipate a clash. Just like Young was given $21.5 million to supply an endless supply of loopiness, one of the purported selling points for Scott was his ability to foster professionalism.
And therein lies the rub.
Young essentially gets paid to crash Jeremy Lin’s interviews and celebrate missed three-balls. (I would be surprised if such shenanigans aren’t formally written into his contract as performance bonuses.) Scott gets paid to make sure players don’t hijack interviews during a losing season. You can argue all day about which guy should buckle down or loosen up, but it doesn’t really matter. Fundamentally, both are who they are, and don’t stand to stray from their guiding principles anytime soon. Thus, it’s likely for the best that one exits stage left.
When a star player doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his coach, the coach typically loses. But a role player rarely wins in this hypothetical, and I don’t think this should be the exception that proves the rule. Even as someone admittedly far from sold on Scott — full and hardly secret disclosure: I wouldn’t have hired him — his stakes are much higher than Young’s. Whether you believe in him or not, Scott was hired to instill a culture. That puts enough on his plate during a rebuild without clashing with his (now) seventh man.
To be clear, this objective isn’t anything the front office hasn’t likely already attempted, and could prove much easier said than done. Young’s trade value can’t be particularly high at the moment, especially when it’s no secret he’s on the block. The Lakers absolutely shouldn’t surrender any assets — not that they have a plethora to begin with — to find Young a new address. This is an issue, not an emergency. But I’d be willing to swap Young for another team’s comparable unwanted contract. Obviously, Young could pick up his play next season, and it’s incumbent on both guys to attempt in earnest to give the other what he needs. (Although Kupchak’s recent “buy in” sentiments clearly put the ball more in Swaggy’s court.) Far more damaged fences have been mended, and that would be the nicest outcome.
But ultimately, if possible, a change of scenery for Young (and by extension, Scott) probably makes the most sense.[divide]