The trash talking increased appreciably inside the Lakers’ practice facility Saturday, which could mean only one thing.
Nick Young was back.
The veteran swingman participated in his first full practice since tearing a thumb ligament in early October and said he was targeting the Lakers’ game Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks for his season debut.
“Get your popcorn ready,” Young said.
Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Young would have to be examined by the team’s medical staff before being cleared to play. Young will start the season with a protective soft cast over his right thumb.
His teammates might have wished he wore a muzzle Saturday during a practice in which he challenged Ronnie Price and Wesley Johnson.
“I told them I would go through them first before I get to Kobe [Bryant],” Young said, referring to the player Young was defending when he suffered his injury. “You’ve got to save the best for last, getting my revenge since he took me out.”
The Lakers are eager for an infusion of offense from Young, who averaged a career-high 17.9 points per game last season off the bench.
“He’s a guy that can take a lot of pressure off Kobe,” Scott said. “He’s a guy that we know we can get the ball to and clear out space and he can get to the basket or he can make shots. He can help us in that aspect right away.”
Scott told Bryant to go home and rest after the shooting guard experienced flusymptoms during what may go down as the worst shooting night of his career. The coach also told Bryant not to bother with practice Saturday.
That didn’t mean Scott expected Bryant to sit out Sunday against the Golden State Warriors.
“You’d probably have to amputate his leg for him not to play,” Scott said. “If he feels 20% better than he felt [Friday] night, he’s going to say, ‘I’m good.’ ”
Bryant, and his shot, were both more than a bit off against the San Antonio Spurs. Bryant made one of 14 shots, 7.1% accuracy that ranked as the worst of his career in games when he took at least five shots.
He spoke with what seemed like an air of resignation afterward as he discussed the challenges of playing in his 19th NBA season.
“It’s definitely catching up to him,” Scott said of Bryant’s age, “but, in that same breath, he has a lot left in that tank at 36 years old. I mean, he’s still playing at an unbelievable level. He wasn’t feeling well from the start, I think as the game went on he started feeling worse and I think that caught up to him as well.”
Scott said Bryant’s workload was not a factor in his performance, insisting he could handle the prescribed limit of 30 to 40 minutes per game “very easily.” Bryant did acknowledge after the game that he needed to “look at how to adjust to the recovery program, try to answer the call, try to answer the challenge when I face a night like tonight in the future.”
Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, a former teammate of Bryant, said that meant changing his approach to how he handles his body.
“Any of us, as we get older, there are things we need to tweak and modify slightly,” Madsen said. “I think Kobe’s the type of athlete that he understands what those are in his relationship with [trainer] Gary Vitti, with the strength and conditioning staff and with Byron. That’s a tight-knit loop and whatever they need to do, I know they’ll do it.”
The Lakers assigned rookie Jordan Clarkson and guard Xavier Henry to the D-Fenders, their Development League affiliate, for Saturday night’s game against the Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate). Both are expected to rejoin the Lakers when they play host to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday at Staples Center. Clarkson’s playing time has dwindled in recent games and Henry was averaging only 1.3 points per game.