After two weeks on the sidelines, Nick Young returned to the Los Angeles Lakers sooner than most expected. Young suffered a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise on Feb. 5, but on Sunday, Young played 20 minutes and scored 10 points on four shot attempts against the Brooklyn Nets.
For a player known for shooting at every opportunity, Young did not look quite right. His statistics did not look right. In particular, his shot attempts did not look right.
After the loss, Young admitted that he felt pain in his knee and needed to adjust. However, the former USC Trojan went one step further and explained how he had been able to return in such a short time.
“I told the Doc I was ready,” Young told reporters after the game.
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He revealed that he did not undergo an MRI before making his return because he would “rather not know.” For a team that is sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, a player returning to game-action prematurely hardly makes sense.
In this case, Young explained that he was partially motivated by the additions of Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. Both Brooks and Bazemore, like Young, are shooters who can play at small forward or shooting guard. Young was intent on maintaining his spot in the rotation.
One difference between Young and his competition for playing time is that Young has a player option on his contract. Meaning, Young has the option to return to the Lakers next season and earn $1.2 million or opt out and test the free agent market. His competition does not have any guarantees or options.
Prior to his injury, Young played well enough that most neutral parties would have guessed he would opt out at season’s end. Following the trade deadline, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak expressed his opinion that his guess would be that Young would discontinue the contract.
With 26 games remaining in the season, Young, like the majority of the Lakers’ roster, is playing for his next contract. Xavier Henry, who also plays a similar role to Young, Brooks and Bazemore, is also expected back shortly, making playing time even more competitive for the final 20-odd games.
The Lakers may not be in a position to win anything this season, but clearly, that does not mean these guys are not playing for anything.