Nick Young to return Sunday
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Less than three weeks after being diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee, Nick Young will be back in the lineup when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.
"I'm back, baby!" Young said to nobody in particular as he bounced off the court following Saturday's practice.
All told, Young missed the Lakers' last six games with the injury, caused by planting his left leg awkwardly while bracing for contact from Cleveland's C.J. Miles on a fast-break layup attempt Feb. 5.
"I didn't think it was going to be this long, to tell you the truth," Young said after his third practice since the All-Star break. "I'm just happy to be back. I can't wait to get out there tomorrow."
How did he recover so quickly?
"It's a miracle," Young said. "You can't keep the swag down."
While the Lakers should benefit from having Young, their second-leading scorer this season at 16.9 points per game, back in the mix, he is realistic about what motivation his 19-36 team has left for the rest of the year.
"We ain't playing for no playoffs here, we just got to play for ourselves and give the fans something to see," Young said.
One thing Young is playing for is a new contract. Young has a player option to return to the Lakers for $1.2 million next season, but he has played well enough to warrant a more lucrative deal.
"Nick Young, I don't know what he's going to do," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said this week. "He's having a great year. My guess is he's going to opt out, but I don't know."
Young's agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPNLosAngeles.com that his client's priority is to stay with the Lakers.
"Nick loves it in L.A.," Bartelstein said. "He grew up as a huge Lakers fan. His dream has always been to play for the Lakers, and he takes pride in being able to put on the Laker uniform. It really means something to him.
"He would love to be there. When we did the deal last year, as I'm sure Mitch would acknowledge, we were doing a below-value deal to sort of recalculate and restart his career with the Lakers."
Young made $6 million last season in Philadelphia before accepting a big pay cut to come to the Lakers for $1.2 million this season.
"His value is certainly much greater than what the contract is," Bartelstein said. "There's no question about that. But our goal is to sit down with Mitch and hopefully work something out so Nick can be with the Lakers for a long time. That would be ideal, but we're not really focused on that right now. Nick's total focus right now is getting back healthy and getting back on the floor and trying to finish the season really strong."
Young, 28, acknowledged that he is in the same boat as a lot of his teammates. Twelve of the 15 players on the Lakers' roster have expiring contracts.
"I think we all feel that, but you can't put so much pressure on yourself," Young said. "I think we all know what's at stake here. We all got a lot of one-year deals, but my main thing is just go out there and play as hard as I can and swag out, have some fun out there."
Where there is Young, there is usually fun. There was a noticeably light mood at practice Saturday with the team coming off a win against the Boston Celtics, with new players Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks still floating on air after their impressive debuts and Xavier Henry participating in on-court drills with his return from a bone bruise in his right knee that's kept him out since Dec. 29 perhaps only a week away, according to D'Antoni.
"It's just good to see X get a dunk today," Young said. "... It was a regular one-hand dunk. I don't want him trying to fly yet."
Just like Young won't quite be setting up to take charges quite yet, even as D'Antoni implores him to step up his defense down the stretch.
"I don't want to bend my knees that much, but I'm going to try," Young said.
D'Antoni says Young will bring the Lakers an "an unpredictableness in everything" upon his return, but is clearly appreciative to have him back.
"He had a little bit of a dip after an unbelievable start, and now, hopefully, with this little break he had he'll come back and have the same energy defensively that he had," D'Antoni said. "Nick can be really good and really help us a lot."