WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's minutes before the Wizards' game against the Miami Heat, and the swarming media is looking for someone -- anyone -- to talk to before the game about the Gilbert Arenas trade. In one corner, Arenas' best friend on the team, Nick Young, stands with security guru Jackie Miles. The media approaches, and Young starts to realize that he's going to have to be the one to talk.
So he did what anyone would do: he started sobbing. Okay, so he wasn't really sobbing, and was just putting on a show for the cameras. It's the Nick Young way to handle things, making light of everything and generally cracking a smile. When it was over, Sam Cassell came over, and Young repeated the routine with him. In a way, it was fitting.
Joke or not, though, the loss of Arenas was difficult for Young to take. Arenas emerged as a mentor figure to Young from the day Young was drafted. When the two shared the court together, Arenas always made it a point to call plays for Young to score. So it's only fitting that Arenas' last interaction with a member of the Wizards was at Nick Young's house, around 2 p.m. this afternoon.
"I was a little shocked, because I was lying down and he knocked on my door and said 'I'm gone,'" he said. "I thought he was talking about to the store or something. But no, he said he was about to get on a flight to Orlando. That's when I knew. I thought he was playing around, but he was all dressed up, his bag was packed, and that was it."
Young said Arenas had been staying at his house for "the last month," where the two of them would spend a lot of time together. They'd talk about the games they played, work out together and push each other to continue to go to the gym. For Arenas, Young was a familiar face, a guy that was still a link to the great days of the past when Arenas lorded over this team. It only made sense for Arenas to stay with him.
"Everything that happened to him here was kind of tough. He didn't know his role, didn't know how he'd fit back in. It came with a lot of difficulty," Young said. "To see him go back home and get a fresh start on a winning team, I know that's something he would enjoy."
The irony of the situation, though, is that the Wizards made this move now in large part to clear time for Young to play. Young has been one of the team's pleasant surprises this year, and arguably is the best guard on the roster outside of John Wall. He's stepped up his defense and continues to shoot in rhythm and with confidence. Ernie Grunfeld admitted as much when he talked about the reasons the Wizards made the trade.
Nick Young is going to get extended minutes now," Grunfeld said. "He's had an opportunity to play, he's played real well, he's shown that he can take advantage of time he's gotten and now he's going to get even more of an opportunity to show what he can do."
On this night, Young seized his opportunity. Playing a career-high 46 minutes, Young was the Wizards offense. He scored 30 points in the game, hitting shots while driving to the rim, off the dribble and, in his new specialty, the catch-and-shoot role. Oh, and he played masterful defense on Dwyane Wade, holding the Miami star to just 7-19 shooting from the field. He even defended LeBron James, doing that well too.
After the game, Young admitted that the advice Arenas gave him over the years stuck with him tonight.
"He told me to go in there and play to your strengths. Do what you're doing your entire life. That kind of stuck with me. He's been a mentor, and things he's said to me have worked."
Young said that, despite the trade, he's thrilled for his opportunity to play. But he also made clear that he couldn't have gotten this far without Arenas. Calling Arenas a "good dude" and a "great player," Young showed more real emotion than I've ever seen from him when discussing Arenas
"He kind of took me in," he said before the game. "He's like a brother to me."
"I know he was watching. He'll give me a phone call [and talk about me] trying to take his spot."