“It depends,” Young said. “When they talk about you in trades or being let go, there’s just so much negativity around, that’s bad. But when you’re doing good, and teams want you, they want to trade for you, that’s good. ‘He’s a valuable trade piece.’ That makes a total difference.”
The former was the narrative about Young. The latter is the narrative now, because Young changed it.
All-Star weekend offers a showcase of just how much has changed for Young in the past six months. For the first time in his career, he’ll be part of it. On Saturday, he’ll compete in the three-point contest against Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Portland’s C.J. McCollum, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Houston’s Eric Gordon, Dallas’ Wes Matthews and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker.
He’s the third Laker to participate in the three-point contest, joining Michael Cooper and Byron Scott. It’s recognition for a man who wondered last summer if his NBA career was over. He’s bringing his mom and his dad. He can hardly contain his excitement. And even though Young will have fun with this, like he does with most things, this fun will be tinged with a bit of vindication.
“To be part of All -Star weekend after all this, is a blessing,” Young said. “At times I had doubts. When you read everything that’s going on, sometimes I almost just gave up, but I just kept going.”
Young heard the news that the NBA had invited him to the contest in a perfectly Nick Young way.
A fan told him. During a game.
Two days later, in a Manhattan gym, he playfully organized racks of basketballs to simulate the setup he’d face in New Orleans.
Here’s why Young considers this all a blessing.
In the off-season the Lakers sought a trade partner who might take Young. There was even some speculation they would waive him before the season opened if they couldn’t trade him.
Young was nearing the end of his contract with the Lakers; he has one year remaining on his deal if he does not opt out of it. He played 19 minutes a game in the 2015-16 season, mostly as a reserve, and made only 33.9% of his shots and 32.5% of his three-pointers. He was best known for his off-the-court entanglements, including a public spat with De’Angelo Russell after Russell secretly recorded a personal conversation the two had.
In the months since, Young completely changed the conversation about him.
Now, he is the Lakers’ starting shooting guard. He shoots 44% from the field, and his 41.3% three-point shooting is the best in his career. He even borrowed Russell’s “ice in my veins” celebration after hitting a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And he actually plays defense.
“Nick’s a really good guy, he really is,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “Whenever you see someone like that, that’s put in the time and really took full advantage of his second, third chance, whatever you want to call it. Maybe his last chance. Who knows what it was? …The NBA inviting him to the three-point contest. As far as being a coach, that’s obviously not what’s most important, but that’s a big part of the reward.”
Even though he sees trade rumors a little more positively now, Young would still rather not hear about them.
He said he’s asked his agent not to tell him about anything he hears, unless it’s that he has been traded. His friends and brother are more interested in daily rumors than he is.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t talk to me, man, about that. Please don’t bring it up. I’ve been seeing that for the last three years,’” Young said.
He grew up in Los Angeles, and went to the Lakers championship parades when they won three in a row while Young was in high school. He starred at USC. He grew his hair out like Kobe Bryant’s.
There’s comfort in being in L.A. If that changes in the next week, Young will take it when it comes.
“If a phone call comes, and my agent, and I get a phone call from Luke saying, ‘Thanks for everything,’ I know it’s over,” Young said.
What nobody can take, though, is this first trip to be part of All-Star weekend.
And so on Monday night, Young went into the gym to time himself as he shot three-pointers, practicing to show just how far he has come.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli