Swaggy Move Aside

The Lakers spent all off-season in 2015 trying to dump Nick Young onto some poor unsuspecting victim but found the market drier than the Nevada desert because really, it’s Nick Young. They then spent the offseason in 2016 trying to trade him again to the same deaf ears, and even floated around the idea of waiving him by way of the stretch provision. If Swaggy lasted through Luke Walton’s training camp, that would have been a surprise since he had one foot in the door and one foot out. But Young shocked himself and everyone else by impressing new coach Luke Walton with his willingness and dedication.

In 2016-17, Nick Young had the best season of his career doing what Swaggy was born to do: shooting the ball. He  was the 17th ranked shooting guard (Real Plus-Minus). It was a rejuvenated Nick Young year, even as he sat many games after the All-Star break because D’Angelo Russell was showcased as the shooting guard, which signaled the Nick Young experiment and experience was just about over.

Young opted-out his deal which left room for someone else, perhaps someone whose defensive rating is better than 114. (With the Lakers, Young’s defensive rating was 115.)

The Nick Young replacement, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, has no such defensive holes. His lowest defensive rating was 111 and that was his rookie year. In effect, the Lakers replaced the offensive heroic Young with the versatile and defensive Caldwell-Pope.  Caldwell-Pope has a different understanding of the NBA game. Unlike Young, he’s not an entertainer more than he’s a basketball player, caring about the lights and flash and Twitter beefs just as much as basketball plays.

Their entry into the Los Angeles market has been vastly different. The Lakers signed Young as a show piece until they could get serious about the NBA. They made this Nick Young bargain with eyes wide open. Entertain us. We’ll indulge you.  It didn’t matter that the rest of the league smirked at Swaggy being Swaggy while the Lakers remained confused and stuck in the sand. It was profitable and filled the entertainment void.

Caldwell-Pope means Lakers basketball things are back to normal. He fits a Lakers organization that finally has hope and promise and a cache of talented young players. He has been to the playoffs. Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance have not.

For a team that was going nowhere, the Lakers front office appeased the fanbase by giving them a player to embrace in Nick Young, the local kid who grew up in South Central, had a tragedy story, overcame it. But often Young was a punching bag too. He would celebrate his own meager displays of excellence in the midst of a wretched season. Look broken, the fans demanded of him when the Lakers were ruined by 40 points. Critics pounded Young for his aggressive nonchalance, for going through the motions, for his highly questionable shot selection and self-promotion, make or miss.

Caldwell-Pope doesn’t have the happy just to be here jacking up shots demeanor. He has a serious game and a serious talent. He will fit in well with the players the Lakers have assembled to take the long march forward into a playoff berth. More importantly, he and Brandon Ingram will save the Lakers from their defensive dungeon. He gives energy and maximum effort and has a consistent motor. He doesn’t take plays off.

But he is not the shooter Young is and he may never may be. But what he is being asked to do is more important than a one dimension calculus. Fit with the players around him and defend his position.

2016-17 Field Goals Attempted FG% 3-Point % Real Plus-Minus (SG) Offensive Rating
Nick Young (Lakers) 10.6 43.0% 40.4% 17 118
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Pistons) 12.2 39.9% 35.0% 29 107

When Swaggy signed with the Warriors last week, there was a collective sigh from the L.A. crowd. Nick Young was loved but not exactly appreciated. His story was so black L.A.- growing up in South Central, ducking and hiding from gang influence, going to high school in the Valley, a murdered brother, a family in grief, going to USC and then the NBA lottery ticket. Los Angeles is a NBA town.

But, Nick Young was never going to help the Lakers in the playoffs. There was just so much he didn’t do on purpose. On a bad team, he was a mascot. He made you forget how miserable these last few years were. With more talent came more expectations. Versatility is the name of the game now. There was some hope that after the D’Angelo Russell video fiasco, Young had conformed to adulthood and had been dragged by the neck into something he had long avoided: maturity. For the most part, he met the expectations. Nick Young grew up. Sort of.

The expectations for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are different. They are team goals, not individual highlights the crowd can’t wait to see. In a way, Caldwell-Pope really does usher in the post-Kobe Lakers. The Lakers have a quality player at Bryant’s position who is young, who is defensive minded, who can make open shots; the page is completely turned.

Caldwell-Pope is a good NBA player. The Lakers need good NBA players, those with a basketball reputation and high I.Q., athletes that make contested shots, that drive in the lane and pass to the open man, that get to the line on a regular basis, that don’t celebrate like it’s a winning lottery ticket and then, on a dime, are comatose on defense, or worse, pout on every bad play.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope may not be as cool as Nick Young. He may not be as L.A. as Nick Young. But he’s a better player.

The detritus of the NBA, the flash, the lights, the colors, the media attention, the crowds, the energy is a Nick Young thing. He brings that with him in the summer and the Drew League where he captivates the Compton crowds over and over. But summer will leave. The summer of our discontent is over. And so is Nick Young in L.A.

Kobe Bryant. Nick Young. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Change is here. Finally.


photo via llananba