Nick Young had grown weary as his contract situation continued to drag on, and with the regular season set to begin next week, he constantly got reminders of where he belonged nearly every time he checked his cellphone.
Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee sent him text messages telling him to come back and posted photographs of his empty Washington Wizards locker room stall, which still had his name and number hanging above.
Young thought his career year was going to produce a lucrative long-term deal, but a down free agent market and no reasonable alternatives forced him to sign his one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer and stay with the only team he has known. Instead of focusing on what didn’t happen, Young will put his attention on what he can control this season with the Wizards.
“I’m just taking it out on the league,” said Young, who averaged a career-best 17.4 points last season. “I’m not going to sit back and pout. Nobody owes nobody nothing. It’s a business, and if they want me back, I’ll come back to the Wizards. I’m happy to be here.”
After taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, Young signed his contract and was back on the court, practicing with his team and trying to get re-acclimated. He admitted his body was still on “L.A. time” and that he was going to need a nap when the Wizards flew to Philadelphia for their final preseason game on Tuesday against the 76ers.
The past days and weeks have been equally stressful and exhausting for Young, as he contemplated if there would be a season because of the protracted lockout, and then he wondered if he’d wear a Wizards uniform again.
“Sometimes I did, but in the back of my head, I always kind of knew I was coming back, and I just didn’t know, was it going to be long-term or short-term,” Young said. “It was a tough decision. I just wanted to be back with the Wizards. We were working hard to get something done, we just couldn’t come to an agreement so it was just, I’ve got to work harder, get back with the team and get back to playing basketball.”
Young wasn’t totally pleased with the outcome, feeling that the NBA’s decision to have training camps coincide with the free agent negotiating period damaged his leverage and made it difficult to get his desired deal.
Three high-ranking NBA executives said Young was seeking a contract that would pay him nearly $9 million a season, but few teams had the means to make such an offer, and the Wizards were hoping to secure him to a contract that would pay him “slightly” more than the mid-level exception of $5 million, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations.
Young worked out regularly during the lockout and held a mini-training camp of his own the past week, working out in Los Angeles each morning, while weighing his options. “I don’t want to come back like Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker or someone. I feel I’m in good shape and eventually can play.”
Young went through the entire practice on Monday without any complications, running around screens and developing his catch-and-shoot skills, which should help a team that had difficulty scoring on Friday in a 103-78 loss to Philadelphia.
“Nick looked very conditioned. He looked focused and he looked like he came back with a little chip on his shoulder, like he had something to prove,” said Maurice Evans, who decided to re-sign with the Wizards on Friday. “He’s worth a lot more than [his qualifying offer], but sometimes as professionals, you have to continuously prove your worth.”
Coach Flip Saunders wasn’t certain if Young would be available against the 76ers, but was more concerned about having him ready for the season opener against New Jersey on Monday.
“It’s good to have Nick back because he’s a cornerstone of what we’ve been trying to do,” Saunders said. “I think that a lot of times, guys that you have a contract, they have a tendency to really give a lot and have great years. Would I have liked to signed him long-term? Yeah, but I think it’s a matter, there are certain things Nick has to do to get to where he wants to get from a financial standpoint, and if he does what we think he might be capable of doing, then he can get paid.”
Saunders believes that Young turned a corner last season to become a more reliable scorer but still needs to improve on his consistency, making plays for his team and becoming a better defender off the ball. “A lot of the little things that come as you mature,” Saunders said.
Saunders has also called on Young to approach the game with a serious attitude, on and off the court, criticizing him and McGee for attempting to eat spoonfuls of cinnamon on a popular YouTube video.
Young heard the complaint and said he would adjust.
“You know me, I was doing it out of fun, but people take it the wrong way. I’m just going to try to calm everything down this year, still have fun, though, but being more mature about things,” said Young, who even trimmed his unruly Afro to a more manageable height. “It was getting a little too long. My mom was a little mad, but you know.”
Asked about his mentality as he enters a contract season for the second year in a row, Young said, “Same but different, you know. They expect more out of me so I’ve got to try to bring more to the table. . . . I’m trying not to put that much pressure on myself. Obviously, it’s a contract year again, and I’m just playing hard, and things will fall into place.”