NCAA Football

Warriors’ Nick Young has warm feelings for Lakers despite team’s lack of interest

July 17, 2017

The gesture usually serves just a photo opportunity. Otherwise the moment becomes forgettable perhaps except for the player holding his uniform.

When Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma displayed his No. 0 jersey at his introductory press conference as the team’s No. 27 draft pick on June 29, however, the moment meant plenty to Nick Young. It gave him the strongest message on how the Lakers felt about retaining him once free agency would begin in July.

“Once I saw my number being given away, I knew it was pretty much over,” Young said on Sunday after playing in a Drew League pickup game. “That was a giveaway right there.”

Young had sent his own signal about a likely departure after opting out of his $5.7 million option to become a free agent. While the Lakers were intent on preserving cap space and investing in most of their young roster, the 32-year-old Young had hoped to join a playoff team after playing for the Lakers during their worst four-year stretch in franchise history (91-237).

While Young saw the Lakers’ lack of interest in retaining him with Kuzma taking his number before free agency even started, he admitted he was not as clairvoyant about joining the Warriors on a one-year, $5.2 million deal through the mid-level exception. After Young’s agent. Mark Bartelstein, informed him about Golden State’s interest on the first night of free agency, Young initially sounded more confused than flattered.

“They’re too stacked,” Young told Bartelstein. “They don’t want me.”

After all, the Warriors won two NBA championships in the past three seasons because of a star-studded cast featuring Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. After losing to Cleveland in the Finals in 2016, the Warriors acquired All-Star forward Kevin Durant to make them seemingly unstoppable.

Most of those players convinced Young of his worth. Durant, Curry, Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr all met with Young on the first weekend of free agency. Young agreed to a deal nearly three days later.

“I felt like the man. It felt good,” Young said. “It’s a good situation playing on a winning team and knowing I have a chance to fight for a ring this year. It’s a great feeling.”

Young’s feelings were much different last year. Then, the Lakers had considered waiving him after playing in the worst stretch of his NBA career and clashing with Russell over a secretly recorded video that became public.

“I didn’t think I was going to be here,” Young said. “I went from almost not playing in the NBA to playing on a championship team. It’s a zero to 100 percent turnaround. I should’ve won the comeback player of the year.”

Young largely credited Lakers coach Luke Walton for ensuring his redemption project. Walton empowered Young with a starting role, positive reinforcement. and a more modern offensive conducive to Young’s skill set. Young averaged 13.2 points on 43 percent shooting in 60 starts, a stark improvement from his numbers in 2015-16 (7.3 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting) and 2014-15 (13.4 points on 36.9 percent shooting) .

“He made the atmosphere different coming from the year with the D’Angelo situation and the Byron Scott situation. It was tough. I just stuck with it,” Young said. “I didn’t want that to be it for me where the last thing people remember me as being in a situation with D’Angelo.”

Walton also gave glowing reviews about Young to Golden State after serving as a Warriors assistant the previous two seasons. He also supported Young through his free agency.

But what about the rest of the Lakers? After his exit interview in April, Young had joked Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson begged him to stay, and even offered him $150 million in cash.

“Me and Magic kind of got sidetracked in June,” Young joked. “We didn’t stay in communication.”

The Lakers spoke loudly enough once they selected Kuzma with the No. 27 pick and gave him No. 0.

“He’s been playing well. But the first day, I thought ‘Dang they going to do me like that in L.A.?’” Young said. “I was a little hurt. But it is what it is, as long as he’s representing that No. 0 well.”

Young then zeroed in on the Lakers’ young roster, most notably rookie point guard Lonzo Ball.

“Ball’s going to be all right if you stop interviewing his family after every win or loss,” Young said, laughing. “Every time he does something, they have to interview Ball’s dad. You got to keep that to a limit in L.A.”

Young had joked in his exit interview he could not play with Ball on the Lakers because he would compete for attention with his outspoken father, LaVar.

“I think it could’ve worked out,” Young said. “Ball is a great passer. I liked to talk trash just like them. We would’ve fit right in.”

Young explained with humor how he considers Golden State a better fit.

“I’ll just be the spark off the bench, shoot and play defense and hopefully get this back to back” championship, Young said. “I’ll take some charges, compete with the guys when we’re out there shooting on the 3-point line and show them who the best 3 point shooter is out there. I’m just kidding.”

Young will have good memories about this city.

“L.A. was good to me.” After starring at Cleveland High in Reseda and USC, Young gushed about joining his hometown team in 2013-14 and thriving under former coach Mike D’Antoni. Young cited various highlights, including trading barbs with Kobe Bryant in practice, making a game-winner against San Antonio and starting in last year’s season opener.

“I love LA. I might be back and retire here one day,” said Young, who is entering his 11th NBA season. “I’ll come back with Kobe, MJ [Michael Jordan] and LeBron [James].”

Young was clearly joking about anticipating the return of two NBA icons in Bryant and Jordan. Young was not joking about James’ possible venture out West.

“Aren’t they all getting everyone next year?” Young said of the Lakers. ”I would have to change numbers.”

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