By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010; D01
LAS VEGAS -- Poking out from under Nick Young's black T-shirt at his collarbone was the word "Faith," inked in cursive letters, rising above two angel wings. Young went to a tattoo parlor last month and decided to get his first bit of ink, setting in motion what he hopes will be a transformation in his maturity and his career.
"It feels like a new birth. I'm just ready to take on any challenge. I'm trying to get tattoos and coming back totally new -- a new Nick," Young said, flashing a grin, then flexing to show he has hit the weight room this summer to add another seven pounds of muscle. "I can stomach the big dogs this year."
Entering his fourth season with the Washington Wizards, Young is at a critical crossroads for his career. He will be a restricted free agent next summer and the team is rebuilding around No. 1 overall pick John Wall, surrounding the 19-year-old phenom with players on short-term deals while determining the adequate supporting cast.
Young made a cameo appearance for the Wizards at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas on Monday hoping to establish some chemistry with Wall and third-year center JaVale McGee and there was no doubt that the two were clicking, with Wall celebrating each Young jumper by lifting his index finger and backpedaling before the shot touched the net.
He also wanted to show that he could still get his shot off at any time -- and he did with flair: When he was trapped in the right corner, he spun left, then right, and nailed a fall-away three-pointer. But Young admitted that Wall's animated reactions to his shot release put a little pressure on him.
"I can shoot. I brag about shots in practice, and he's got a lot of confidence in me," Young said of Wall. "It hurts when I miss and he's doing all that jumping around, you know. But that's John being John. He's a good guy. And you need a point guard like that. It was good to get a run out here with him."
After scoring 18 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Young announced that he had played his final summer league game. "This is my last one, you guys. I've retired my jersey in summer league," Young said with a laugh.
Young doesn't have any more to prove against the rookies, has-beens and never-wases that make up most summer league rosters. He dominated summer league play last season but still suffered through one of the more perplexing and discouraging campaigns of his career.
He also entered training camp gunning for the starting shooting guard job only to get middling minutes, fall out of the rotation and finish the season as the starter only after injuries to Josh Howard and Al Thornton and a surprising defection by Alonzo Gee, a player on a 10-day contract. But he finished the season strongly, averaging 16.5 points over the final nine games as the Wizards went 5-4.
Young entered the offseason committed to getting stronger physically -- in case he had to spend more time at small forward -- and determined not to let seemingly unfavorable circumstances hinder his focus. In his first three seasons in Washington, Young has gone on some explosive scoring binges but has been unable to turn the corner and become a reliable contributor because of inconsistency and mental lapses.
"It's time to grow up," said Young, who has averaged 9.1 points and 1.6 rebounds over his career. "This means a lot, it's my fourth year, a big year, my contract year. And just for the team, the Wizards and Washington, D.C., we just needed a big change and this could be the year right here."
Young was actually able to get familiar with Wall before the NBA draft, working out with him a few times at the Impact Sports facility in Reseda, Calif. He said he was thrilled when he saw the Wizards win the draft lottery in May. "That was great. I was surprised like everybody else," he said. "That's one situation I ain't never been in, and I've been through just about everything else with the Washington Wizards. I was hoping we'd get a point guard like John. It's a lot of attention with John out there. Me being a scorer, they're going to leave me in the corner or by myself and I just have knock down shots. It's the energy. It's a new Washington, we're just looking to have fun out there."
But the franchise's stroke of luck also put Young on alert. With Wall taking over at point guard, Gilbert Arenas sliding over to shooting guard and the addition of Kirk Hinrich from Chicago, Coach Flip Saunders has an effective three-guard rotation forcing the a 6-foot-6 Young to carve out some niche.
"I'm just going to go out and play hard, whatever happens, happens," Young said, adding that he will use the new artwork on his chest as inspiration. "I got a lot of confidence in myself. I'm just staying focused. Sometimes you ain't going to play, sometimes you are going to play. Things can change around quick. I just have to have faith. Keep on going, keep on playing through whatever -- life, basketball, believe."