ClipperBlog is running a series called “Summer Reading” – tidbits, advice and (ideally) reading material for each member of the Los Angeles Clippers. The hope being that players return next season armed with newfound knowledge, improvements to their skills and emboldened by their summer studies. Because knowing is half the battle.
Reading Material: The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
The whole season sort of blends together into one jumbled game at this point, but if I recall correctly, it was halftime of the first Wizards-Clippers game of the season, well before the trade deadline. Caron Butler (I’m pretty sure it was him – again, I’ve had four concussions, so this could all be completely made up) was being interviewed, and in between the typical player speak, he said something that I found absolutely hilarious. It’s not uncommon to pay lip service to your opponent during halftime interviews, but Butler went out of his way to warn specifically against the threatening talent of the undoubtedly dangerous…Nick Young?
No, no. That couldn’t be right. He meant John Wall, right? He really said Nick Young?
I laughed and laughed at Caron making a funny. The Wizards were not to be taken this seriously, and by extension, neither was Nick Young and his volume chucking. They were a joke, and Clippers fans knew the punchline. Hell, the Clippers wrote the joke. They had plenty of Nick Youngs before — talented, eccentric players who couldn’t seem to get out of their own way.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the trade deadline came and Nick Young would suit up for the Clippers’ shade of red and blue. When the trade went down, Kevin Arnovitz looked at it with a level head and noted Young as one of the league’s premier corner three-ball shooters in the league. Meanwhile, I compared the acquisition to buying a box of Captain Crunch that’s on sale… you get it because it’s cheap, and it looks good, but you instantly regret the decision once it’s shredding the inside of your mouth.
That’s what I expected — Young would come to the Clippers, take the same baffling shots he always had, and quickly out himself as the lost cause most people expected he was.
Well, that wasn’t even close to what happened. Whether it was playing for a winner in a much-needed change of scenery or just playing alongside Chris Paul, Nick Young started doing all the things most thought he was incapable of doing. He made swing passes that were previously unthinkable. He fought the urge to jack up the familiar PUJIT he had a love affair with in Washington. He made good decisions and yet maintained a high level of confidence, even when his shot temporarily abandoned him.
It was all very surreal. There were little hints along the way that he was coming around, similar to the ones Eric Bledsoe dropped towards the end of the regular season. Then, like Bledsoe, the playoffs served as his coming out party. There weren’t many Clippers more responsible for The Comeback against Memphis than Young was; which made it all the more enjoyable. Young was one of our guys even though he wasn’t – a player as easy to write off with “that’s Nick Young” playing for a franchise that was always written off with “it’s the Clippers.” Young was a guy who didn’t give up down 24 points with 8 minutes left, even though he had every reason to. And here he was, playing for fans who never gave up on their team, even though they had every reason to. It was a perfect match.
That brings us to my proposed summer reading, and one of my favorite books: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.
Much like Nick Young, Holden Caufield is a talented young man who becomes disenchanted with his surroundings — the school system, his “friends”, and everything else young adulthood entails. What he wanted most was a more mature audience, one that would actually appreciate him.
Young received more mature company and a new chance in Los Angeles — perfect timing for a player who went through his fair share of growing pains in Washington.
Holden found his own opportunity as well, but he wasn’t quite as ready. Out of school and on his own in the real world for three days, Holden’s bad decisions eventually led him to the conclusion that adults loved to prey on the innocent, taking any chance to manipulate others. Although he was victimized, the accountability for his host of terrible decisions, much like Young in Washington, seemed to be non-existent.
The realization of all this led Holden to a daydream, one in which children happily played in a long field of rye that ended in a cliff. Holden envisioned himself as the protector of these children, where he would catch the kids that played too close to the edge and save from them falling off — the catcher in the rye.
Eventually, back home and threatening to run away, Holden took his upset little sister to the zoo and experienced his first genuine happiness in the story as he watched her ride a carousel. As she reached out to grab at a gold ring stationed above the carousel, Holden thought of warning her not to so she wouldn’t fall…but instead decided that all children have to learn on their own — that you can’t keep them from falling and growing up forever.
Put yourself in Nick Young’s shoes (it’s okay, he’s got thousands) and imagine growing up in the spotlight of the NBA, placed on a losing team that breeds losers, where the notion that someone would have to take you seriously in the second half of a basketball game brings about ridicule. Imagine making thousands of decisions over the course of a game and knowing that most likely, none of them will matter. Imagine doing that 82 times a year, for multiple years. How do you deal with that? Maybe you’d try to be basketball’s catcher in the rye, shooting every shot in an effort to protect against something that seemed inevitable. Maybe you’d be selfish like a teenager would.
What I hope is that Nick Young had his carousel moment in his short trip with the Clippers. I hope that he fully understands his decisions matter, maybe more than anything else. I hope he’s realized that growing into a mature basketball player on a winning team is a wonderful thing – that “saving” himself or his team by trying to take and make every shot is a useless exercise. I want Young to be able to look back on his time with the Wizards and laugh and blush like the rest of us do when we think about all the stupid things we did on the verge of adulthood. I hope that what we saw last year was Nick Young growing up.
I think the Clippers hope that too. The question is, how much are they willing to spend on that hope?