Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Nick Young concluded his first shootaround on Friday at Verizon Center as a member of the opposing team, slipped on his hoodie, folded his arms and looked around.
“It feels a little weird,” said Young. “No, a lot weird. I feel like I was just here.”
Young is excited about being back in Washington – where he spent the first 5½ seasons of his career – more than a year after the Wizards dealt him to the Los Angeles Clippers in the three-team trade that yielded Nene. He was hoping to keep his emotions in check before playing in a game that he admitted carried special meaning.
“My teammates keep hyping me up. I don’t want to come out overshooting things, airballing. Have people say, ‘There’s a reason why we cut your [behind].’ I’m going to come out and try to play,” Young said, with a chuckle.
Young scored 17 points to lead the 76ers to 92-84 win over his former team when the Wizards made their lone visit to Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 30. But he missed out on the 76ers’ first visit to Washington – a 90-87 loss on March 3 – while recovering from a sprained left ankle and didn’t even travel with the team.
Before shootaround, Young caught up with a few familiar faces, like John Wall and Trevor Booker and noticed the dark mahogany wood that covers the walls leading to the Wizards locker room.
“I see they changed a lot. The locker room and all that,” Young said, without mentioning the actual team, which has undergone a dramatic transformation since dealing him. Young only has six former teammates remaining on the Wizards – Wall, Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Cartier Martin.
Young was drafted to a playoff team that was making its fourth consecutive postseason run in 2007-08, then became a key contributor on a repeated lottery offender and league-wide laughingstock before the Wizards took a different direction. On his second team since getting traded, Young believes that he has matured in the past year, and is a better player than the one that left.
His scoring average (11.4 points) has dipped since he’s surrounded by better talent but field goal percentage is better than his final season in Washington. He is also averaging a career-high 1.5 assists, which might not sound like much, but represents a concerted effort to be more than just a gunner.
“This year, I really tried to make it an emphasis to create for others as well. That’s something folks have been talking about and I see it. I see it now,” Young said.
Young got to taste the postseason for the second time in his career last season with his hometown Clippers and thought that the 76ers had a decent shot to help him get back. But the season was derailed because of injuries, most notably to Andrew Bynum, the centerpiece of a blockbuster offseason deal that went bust when the all-star center failed to appear in any games.
“We were right there, lost a couple in a row, then it was pretty much over after that. We was fighting uphill,” said Young, who has missed 21 games because of injury this season. “It was tough. We came in here with high expectations, especially with Bynum being a part of the program with the team. If he was on the team, I think things could’ve been a lot different.”
Young was unable to cash in on the best season of his career in 2010-11 and was forced to take a one-year qualifying offer with the Wizards after failing to get the lucrative deal that he had been seeking. He signed another one-year deal worth $6 million last summer, but said he would like to settled down in one spot for a longer time.
“It’ll be real tough. It’s something I’m not looking to do. At all,” Young said, when asked about signing another one-year deal. “I’m focused on what’s going to happen this summer. Looking to get a long-term deal. I’m going to weigh my options and see what goes on.”
Young wasn’t certain if he would return to the 76ers – “We’ll see,” he said. – but has enjoyed his time in Philadelphia. Fans have embraced him and he is introduced my his nickname, “Swagy P” in pre-game introductions. “To have people on the street calling me that is crazy. Fans tell me to sign, “Swagy P” instead of Nick Young. That’s cool. That’s real cool.”
Young said he “felt the love” the moment he got off the train from Philadelphia as it arrived at Union Station on Thursday night. Young shook hands with fans and well-wishers who welcomed him back to Washington.
“Fans was telling me they missed me and all that,” said Young. “That Swagy P do what it do.”