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Young making the most of his less-than-ideal situation

Playing on losing teams nothing new for the forward, who hopes his hard work will pay off with long postseason run at some point

POSTED: Mar 18, 2016 12:19 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Through 67 games, Thaddeus Young has averaged 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 50.8 percent.

— If an NBA season can be said to possess human emotions, anthropomorphically speaking, then a team's downward spiral from October through April can pack the same famous feelings of loss and grief familiar to those who've lost a good friend.

In November, there's denial, a reluctance to accept the feedback coming from the court after so much sunshine and optimism in October. December brings anger, frustration spilling over into something stronger as losses mount.

Then comes January and the bargaining ("If we can just make it to the All-Star break and get healthy ..."). When that doesn't happen or, worse, when it does and nothing improves? Yep, February depression. And then finally, sometime in March, harsh reality settles in -- it is what it is, as so many say in The Association -- and all the earlier emotions give way to acceptance.

Each and every time we lose, I take it personal. I take it hard. It's tough.

– Nets' Thaddeus Young

This is the acceptance time of the year for NBA teams headed nowhere, so Brooklyn forward Thaddeus Young talked about the Nets' 2015-16 plight between bites of a turkey sandwich.

"This hasn't been my first rodeo," Young said, not quite 90 minutes before his 19-48 team would dig a 24-point hole against the Chicago Bulls at United Center and lose for the 49th time. "Just a couple of years ago, I was playing for a 76ers team that wasn't very good. But I realized, with [younger] guys being on the team, you had to show 'em. You have to go out there and lead your troops through it. Even when you know you're bringing a knife to a gunfight.

"If that's it, I'm gonna go down swinging with the knife. That's what I continue to do. Just keep trying to fight my way out."

This is how it has gone for Young for most of his nine NBA seasons. Almost from the time he arrived as the No. 12 pick of the 2007 Draft, sandwiched between Acie Law and Julian Wright on that June night, he has been a valuable player locked in a less-than-desirable situations. One brick in need of more, or at least mortar, if his teams truly were serious about building something.

The ones for which Young has played -- Philadephia, Minnesota, Brooklyn -- are a combined 141 games under .500 in his time with them. The 76ers were just mediocre enough to get Young to 30 playoff games by the time he was 23, but he has played in only six since then.

Just over a year ago, Young was traded by the Timberwolves (a giveaway for Minnesota's nostalgia grab at Kevin Garnett) and helped the Nets finish 17-13 in an otherwise disappointing season to snag a one-and-done postseason berth. But this time around, all pretenses were dropped -- Garnett and Paul Pierce already were gone, along with multiple first-round picks used dubiously in 2013 to acquire them. Deron Williams was dumped last summer. Joe Johnson was bought out last month. Lionel Hollins? Fired as coach in January, the same time Billy King was defrocked as general manager.

Tony Brown is the Nets' interim coach and Sean Marks is their rookie GM. Further changes after the season are as inevitable as more defeats in what's left of it. The roster, beyond Young, center Brook Lopez, forward Bojan Bogdanovic and top pick (but hurt) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, looks more like a recycle bin.

And staying professional is almost as hard as winning games, Brown conceded, "obviously when we have nothing to play for."

Said Young: "Each and every time we lose, I take it personal. I take it hard. It's tough. But you can't let it kill you."

Young finished his turkey sandwich and then, a short time later, posted his career-best 28th double-double of the season. He finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 31 minutes and was a plus-9 against the Bulls, but every one of Brooklyn's subs was a minus-22 or worse.

Through 67 games, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound product of Mitchell H.S. in Memphis and one season at Georgia Tech has averaged 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 50.8 percent. He ranks among the NBA leaders in points-in-the-paint (11.2) and his rebound percentage has jumped to 15.6 percent from last season's 9.6 percent.

He, Lopez and the coaches have figured out the best ways to maximize their skill sets -- Young working more inside, slashing to the basket in this age of stretch fours, using his strength defensively -- if not max out the results on the board.

"He's a handful man, he's a real handful," said Chicago's Taj Gibson. "Through all these years, I've just been going at it with him for a long time. Especially when he used to come off the bench as a sixth man. A lot of wars. I feel for him -- he's playing tough, he's playing great basketball. It's just tough he's playing for a struggling team."

Gibson, three years older than Young, was born in Brooklyn and forever will consider it home. He's playing on a four-year, $33 million deal signed in 2012 and noticed when Young -- as a free agent last summer -- re-upped with the Nets for four years, $50 million.

Gibson has been a key contributor on a playoff team each year he's been in Chicago. He seems to prefer the path he's taken.

"I've been lucky enough, being around a great group of guys and I've been able to play winning basketball," the Bulls forward said. "That's the one thing about when your time comes to get a new contract, sometimes it kind of counters itself: Do you want to take less and be in a winning position, or do you want to take the most money and go to a shady situation?

"He's had a rough spell. The thing about it, though, he signed a big deal. He's in Brooklyn, New York. It can't be too bad. It's bad when you want to win, but at the same time ... he got a new contract."

Young nearly got his cake and his contract, too, when his name bubbled up at the February trade deadline in rumored deals with Detroit, New Orleans and mostly Toronto. Gibson shook his head and smiled, thinking about how well Young and the East-contending Raptors would have meshed.

Instead, Young remains in Brooklyn, an operation several bricks shy of a load.

"He's always going to be a valuable piece," Gibson said. "He can beat you in a thousand ways. Guys like that eventually find a good place. But Brooklyn's in a tough spot. They don't have any draft picks, they've got a lot of big thinking to do."

Young admits he ran some what-if scenarios through his head as the deadline approached, imagining how he might thrive in the prime of his career now on teams playing into May.

I feel for him -- he's playing tough, he's playing great basketball. It's just tough he's playing for a struggling team.

– Bulls' Taj Gibson on Thaddeus Young

He just made sure he didn't think about that too much.

"You just put it in the back of your mind because you want to continue doing the things you've been doing," Young said. "I'm a player who might not be great at any one thing but I can do a lot of things well. And I'm an intangible guy -- play defense, get steals, hustle, get rebounds -- and just happen to be able to score a little bit.

"It says that a lot of people are noticing. ... I've been in trade talks before. So it's nothing new, you continue to just play. Play through everything."

"Free Thaddeus Young?" Nah, it hasn't reached that point yet, not at $12.5 million a year. But you've got to admit, it has a certain ring to it. Likely the only ring he'll ever know if he stays put in Brooklyn.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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