Swag to the Future: The Lakers' Shifting Priorities

Once the bright spot in a dark period for the organization, the Laker formerly known as Swaggy P finds himself on the outside looking in, as the Lakers focus on the future for the remainder of the season.

Source: LakersNation.com

And so ends the Swaggy P experiment in purple and gold. Coach Byron Scott announced yesterday that Nick Young will likely be absent from the bench for the Lakers final six games of the season. And after last week’s turmoil between Young and D’Angelo Russell ruined the chemistry between the two, Young will have likely played his last game in a Lakers uniform, giving an unceremonious end to the LA native’s time in his hometown.

Young joined the team in 2013, after the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash super-team fell short of expectations. Young was a low-risk signing: serviceable shooting for a veteran’s minimum salary to inject scoring into the lineup. Though that season marked the team’s worst performance of all-time (and served as the start of the Laker’s deterioration to date), Young had a career year, notching new career highs in points and assists.

But the downfall began when Young became known as much for his attitude and his antics rather than for his shooting ability. The newfound limelight in Tinseltown saw his profile increase nationwide; he deemed himself the “Prophet of Swag,” donned the nickname Swaggy P, and found time to woo Australian Rapper Iggy Azalea. But as his fame increased, his play decreased. The 2014-2015 season was Young’s worst shooting year of his career percentage-wise, and his defense became (or rather continued to be) the most lacking part of his game; statistically, Young was the worst defender on the team of anyone who saw significant minutes.

To be fair though, it's debatable whether Young’s on the court skills were ever more valuable than his off the court characteristics. Then head coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned that the energy Young brought to the team was valuable. “When we have shootaround and the energy’s down, he’s ‘swaggy’ out there…he gets everybody’s energy up.” Former Laker Shawne Williams said of him that “You can’t do anything but smile when you see Swaggy.” For a team in such dire straits as this most recent iteration of the Los Angeles Lakers, positivity has to be seized and cherished whenever possible.

But what happens when that positivity is gone? In the span of a week, Young went from being accused of sexually harassing a feminist activist to being caught on tape admitting to infidelity against his famous fiancée. While both of those situations came with their own question marks, it’s been nothing but negativity for a man known for keeping team morale high. Not to mention the catastrophic chemistry effect of a locker room favorite clashing with the hopeful future of the franchise. It’s inevitable for the situation to reach a point where the on-court product is affected.

That point is right now. Young has either been inactive or a DNP for the past 11 games, and if Byron Scott’s most recent comments about him are any indication, the trend will continue. Scott insists that the decision is purely basketball related, but both Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle have alluded to the fact that the locker room is more awkward when Young and Russell are present together.

Even if it’s accidental, the Lakers are positioning themselves squarely in D’Angelo’s corner by keeping Young’s presence at a minimum. After using the second pick of the draft on Russell and shopping Young literally whenever trades are allowed for the past two season, it’s obvious where the organizational loyalty lies: with the future of the team.

And that’s how it should be. But that hasn’t been the case all year long, much to the chagrin of Lakers fans ready to move on from these past three lost seasons. As much as we all enjoy watching Kobe shoot to his heart’s content, at some point, the future has to be the priority. And at last, Byron Scott has finally obliged. In addition to Young, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass will both remain out of the lineup for the rest of the season, giving extra minutes in the backcourt for Russell and Clarkson, and opening up opportunities for center Tarik Black down low.

Scott’s change of direction comes at a perfect time for Russell. Opportunities to showcase his skill and prove to Laker Nation why he’s more valuable than Nick Young should help Russell assuage the concerns of the contingency of Laker fans who have been disappointed with his recent actions. At the end of the day, the product on the floor is what’s most important for everyone.

For the past three seasons, that product has been one of the worst in the league. For all the fun he brought to the locker room, Young did little to bolster the numbers in the win column. For years, the Lakers have been defined on the court by lackluster defensive effort and injury-riddled benches. Now, with eyes towards next season and beyond, the team must be defined by D’Angelo Russell, by Jordan Clarkson, by Julius Randle. Maybe the team has lost of its most glowing personalities. But on the other hand, the Lakers can bring the focus back to the basketball on the floor. Not by prank wars and funny nicknames, but by intense effort and an unrelenting desire to win. Now instead of looking to Young for inspiration in the locker room, the team can look to their seasoned veteran as their prime example.

Perhaps this move comes too late to some fans. But in terms of team dynamics, it might be right on time. The clear and stated purpose of developing youth for at least this final week of the season will help the organization end this dismal year on a different path. One with direction and hope. One that points towards the future.

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