Nick Young feels right at home with Warriors
‘Going from the bottom to the top, it was hard. But I made it through.’
OAKLAND, California — Nick Young was standing outside the Golden State Warriors locker room before his preseason debut when security guards began yelling, “Clear out. Clear out.”
The man nicknamed “Swaggy P” curiously looked down the long hall toward the basketball court to see what all the commotion was about before quickly putting his back to a nearby wall to make room. Suddenly, Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry came running down the hall in a complete sprint from the basketball court to the locker room. With a reputation for being carefree and comedic, Young smiled while feeling right at home with his new championship team after years of feeling like he was on a “roller coaster.”
“That’s the first time I’ve seen that. Yeah, see what I’m talking about? They have fun here, but they win doing it,” a smiling Young said before the Warriors’ preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets.
Young, 32, has earned a reputation as one of the NBA’s most intimidating 3-point shooters. The 11-year NBA veteran entered Monday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks just 80 3-pointers shy of 1,000 for his career. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard once scored a career-high 43 points and has a knack for making 4-point plays. He also played with Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant during Bryant’s final season in 2015-16.
But the drama has often overshadowed those notes on Young’s NBA resume.
“I am pretty much still ‘Swaggy.’ But I just want people to know that I’ve been through some stuff and overcame some stuff,” Young said.
Young was a member of the Washington Wizards on Dec. 21, 2009, when teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton had a locker room confrontation that ended with Arenas pulling out a gun. Young was one of four Wizards players fined $10,000 apiece by the NBA on Jan. 9, 2010, after Arenas made light of the incident by pointing his index fingers at teammates as if he were firing guns during a pregame huddle. Arenas ended up being suspended for most of the 2009-10 season because of handgun violations stemming from the incident and for subsequent actions.
Young was also known for putting his arms up in triumph and turning his back to the basket on a missed 3-pointer during a game with the Lakers.
His relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea was chronicled on social media, and the two were engaged in June 2015 while Young was playing for the Lakers. But in March 2016, a cellphone video surfaced that then-Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell taped in which Young answered his questions about being with other women. Young did not appear to realize he was being recorded. Russell faced a tough Lakers locker room and was ridiculed on social media, while Young was chastised for his words and actions. Azalea eventually broke off the engagement with Young after problems in their relationship continued to surface.
Young feared that his drama would cause his hometown Lakers to trade or waive him despite having one year paying $5.4 million remaining on his contract for the 2016-17 season.
“Last year going into summertime after everything blew up was the toughest time,” Young said. “It was tough because I didn’t know if I was going to be on any team. I was hearing buyout, getting cut. There was just so much going on with the deal. I didn’t think I was going to be playing anytime soon.”
Young said he finally felt comfortable that the Lakers wanted him back last season after receiving a positive phone call from then-first-year head coach Luke Walton. Young proved he could still be productive, averaging 13.2 points while shooting a career-high 40.4 percent from 3-point range.
“Luke called me and just told me to control what I can control. Luke was pretty big in all of this,” Young said.
Young’s days as a Laker ended when he became a free agent during the offseason. He said he desperately needed a change of scenery from the Lakers. Meanwhile, the Lakers traded Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets on June 20 for center Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick (Kyle Kuzma) in the 2017 NBA draft.
Asked whether he and Russell are on good terms now, Young said with a nervous laugh: “Yeah. It is what it is. We both ain’t in L.A. anymore.”
Young entered free agency having appeared in the playoffs in only two of his 10 NBA seasons, playing in 15 postseason games, the last coming in 2012 with the Los Angeles Clippers. It certainly was music to Young’s ears when his agent, Mark Bartelstein, called saying the reigning NBA champion Warriors were interested in him. Warriors coach Steve Kerr and All-Stars Kevin Durant and Draymond Green met with Young in Los Angeles over lunch in early July to recruit him to join the champs. That gesture during a short offseason for the Warriors meant a lot to Young.
“I thought my agent was just talking at first,” Young said. “But Steve got on the phone with me and came down to L.A. to meet with me with a couple of the guys. I thought that was dope. I felt like I was ‘one.’ That’s all players want. And to be wanted by a champion is even better.”
Kerr said his selling point to Young was that he fit the Warriors “perfectly” because he was a 6-foot-7 guard who could play multiple positions and shoot well. Kerr also told Young that he was happy about his improvement as a defender last season, but he didn’t promise major playing time on his deep team. Championship expectations were sold as well.
“He has the potential to fit in beautifully with us, and we have the idea of winning a championship to offer to him,” Kerr said. “He’s been a really good player in his career, but he’s played on a lot of bad teams, frankly, so I think the appeal to Nick was to come play with this group of players. He’s a great fit.
“We’ve got a lot of people, and I explained to Nick that the numbers are probably going to be different, but over the course of the season, between injuries, resting guys, he’s going to get his chance to play, and he fits in beautifully with all the playmakers we have.
“He’s one of the best spot-up shooters in the league. He can also create his own shot. We’re really excited to have him, and I think he’s going to be in a great spot.”
Durant said he told Young he would be joining a “great environment” and he would “have fun” playing with Golden State. The 2017 NBA Finals MVP would definitely know since he won an NBA title in his first season with the Warriors. Durant also said that Young’s personality “fits perfectly” with Golden State.
“Nick just always has that energy and excitement with him,” Durant said. “It just feels that way every time I see him, so to be able to work with him every day is going to be a joy. And I know his game is going to translate: a guy that can shoot the ball, can score, create for everybody.”
A reborn and ecstatic Young agreed to a one-year, $5.2 million contract on July 7, thus gaining an “opportunity to win something.”
“It’s tough. Going from the bottom to the top, it was hard. But I made it through. I stayed with it. Kept the faith. Basketball sent me on a roller coaster,” Young said.
Young’s former Wizards teammate JaVale McGee also gave him some positive reasons for joining the Warriors. McGee went from a ridiculed player to NBA champion with the Warriors last season. He was emotional and thankful after winning his first title. Young said McGee told him that the Bay Area accepted him for who he was and just cared about winning and having fun. Young also believes that his laid-back and fun personality fits the renowned laid-back Warriors, who often blast music during practice.
“I needed a new atmosphere and to learn from new guys who have been in the league for a while,” Young said. “I just wanted an opportunity to win something. I saw my man JaVale do it.”
Young said he was nervous when he first arrived at Warriors training camp. Kerr also had no problems saying that the newcomer was not in great shape either. Young had previous experience playing with a superstar in Bryant, but joining an NBA team that won two of the last three titles and has four All-Stars in Durant, Green, Curry and Klay Thompson was intimidating at first.
After Kerr urged Young to be himself on the first day of training camp, Young relaxed and let his 3-pointers fly.
“Like Kobe, it’s a totally different set of stars,” Young said. “Kobe, you had to say, ‘What’s up?’ to him and talk to him. He was very standoffish. But these guys, once I came in, were already all jelling. It was kind of like family.
“I was a little nervous. It’s a new team that just won a championship, and it’s a bunch of great players. But they welcomed me great, so I thought that was unbelievable right there.”
Young made his presence known immediately in his Warriors regular-season debut, nailing 6 of 7 3-pointers en route to 23 points off the bench in a loss to the Houston Rockets on Oct. 17. He has made 9 of 13 3-point attempts through his first three games with Golden State while averaging 14.3 minutes per game. Kerr has said that Young’s role will probably change game by game, but it appears he will remain a rotation player.
Young was also on hand as his teammates celebrated their 2017 NBA championship on Oct. 17 by raising their championship banner and getting rings. Expect a major celebration from Young if he becomes a champion with the Warriors this season after everything he has gone through.
“You got to grow through all of that,” Young said. “To go through what I’ve gone through, you got to just be thankful and enjoy because you see at any time this can go [away]. But now I’m playing on a championship-contending team.
“I’ve been dreaming about it. I will probably be on TMZ the next day. The celebration is going to be crazy for sure.”