Young, Arenas use friendship to move on from troubled past
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- When Nick Young was traded to Los Angeles in March he asked to wear No. 0, homage to his long-time friend and mentor, Gilbert Arenas. No bleeping way, the Clippers told him. The past is the past; it's time to turn the page.
We go about our business a certain way here, Vinny Del Negro told Young. All that b.s. that went down in Washington, forget it. We expect to win here, and we expect you to be a productive part of it.
A little more than a month later, Young is No. 11, Arenas is No. 10 and two of the faces of the Wizards wreckage are suddenly relevant. Young was one of the catalysts in the Clippers' stunning 24-point fourth-quarter rally, knocking down three straight threes in the final three minutes to help bring L.A. back. Arenas, signed by the Grizzlies in March, is a backup to Mike Conley. They have put the woeful ending in Washington in the rear-view mirror, never to be discussed.
"No talking about the past," Arenas said. "When we see each other, we stay away from that area."
Lately, they have been seeing each other plenty. In Memphis, the Clippers are staying at a hotel across the street from the arena, the same hotel Arenas moved into when he got to town. Young's room is just a few floors above Arenas', not that he spends much time in it. He's downstairs, with Gilbert.
For hours Arenas and Young hang out, rekindling a friendship that was unceremoniously torn apart. They don't do much. They watch television. They watch game film. And they talk trash. Arenas feeds Young disinformation ("We're going to double you here") and Young ("What do you know? You play like 10 minutes a game") fires back. When they are hungry, they go eat. When they want to shop, they go to the mall. When they want coffee, they go to Starbucks together.
"Gil is like my family," Young said. "His sons call me 'uncle.' It's been really good to see him."
Said Arenas: "He keeps telling me I'm going to get him into trouble if the coaches see him with me. But that's who we are. We're friends."
They wish they were still playing together, though both agree the change in scenery has been good. They will forever be linked to the carnage in Washington: Arenas for his 50-game suspension in 2010 for bringing unloaded pistols into the Wizards' locker room and his subsequent mocking of the incident; Young, for his lackadaisical defense, brutal shot selection and constant bouts of immaturity.
But both are trying to move on. Young has found a home coming off the bench in L.A., a short drive to his high school in Reseda and next door to where he played college ball at USC. He averaged 9.7 points in 23.5 minutes per game in 22 games with the Clippers this season, and on Sunday scored 19 points in his first playoff game since 2008. With Caron Butler, another ex-Wizard, , out four to six weeks with a broken left hand, Young will move into the starting lineup and play heavy minutes.
"Being here is like a new birth," Young said. "It's a new environment, a winning environment. It's a chance to start my career over. We had some good times in Washington. But all the losing and the things that happened off the court kind of messed things up."
Arenas was a fearless scorer in Washington before knee injuries robbed him of his explosiveness and bizarre behavior made him a pariah. At 30, Arenas could have retired -- the $62 million he will collect from Orlando over the next three years makes for a nice safety net -- but he wanted to come back, to prove after an unproductive 49-game stint with the Magic that he still had something left in the tank. Memphis took a flyer on him and, by all accounts, has not been disappointed.
"From what you heard and what you saw the years before, he has been totally different with us," said Conley. "I keep thinking, 'this can't be the same guy everyone talks about.' He's a very outgoing person, but at the same time he is about business. He wants to win. He has done nothing but help us."
Indeed, there is institutional knowledge in a scorer like Arenas, and Conley has taken advantage of it. Before practices Conley, Arenas and player development coach Lloyd Pierce work on individual moves. Arenas is in Conley's ear, telling him which angles to attack, how to manipulate a defender, how to create shots better off the dribble.
When Conley, a lefty, penetrates with his right hand, his natural instinct is to grab the ball with both hands before he elevates. But defenders often crowd Conley when he goes right, subtly grabbing that left arm to keep him from using it. Arenas suggested Conley try palming the ball with his right hand and scooping it up towards the bucket. Last month, against the Clippers, Conley decided to try it. On his first right-handed drive, he held the ball out with his right and flipped it off the backboard and in. As Conley ran down court, he locked eyes with Arenas on the bench, and smiled.
"I just looked at him and said, 'I did it,'" Conley said. "He has really been a help."
Arenas doesn't know what the future holds. He says he is enjoying his time in Memphis, where the attention paid to him is considerably less.
"For me, it's all about playing the game the right way," Arenas said. "I've scored 29 per game in a season, 34 per game in the playoffs (2005-06). I've hit big shots, but right now it's about managing the team. I know there are people who think I can't play anymore, but if they want to come to practice and try to guard me, they will see. I like where I'm at. There is no pressure.
"When I grew up watching basketball, you watched it for what it was. There was no negativity. You just enjoyed the game. Now there is more negative stuff about basketball players. I don't want that part of basketball anymore."
It's possible Arenas and Young will wind up together at some point. Both are free agents after the season. Even if they don't, it won't keep them apart. They will line up against each other as adversaries on Wednesday night, but they will be friends, seemingly inextricably linked, forever.