Thaddeus Young is in his 14th season and less than one month out from turning 33-years-old, but his game says otherwise.
The Bulls big man looks like he might as well be in the thick of his prime. No, he doesn’t have the same kind of athleticism and quick feet that he did when he was averaging nearly 18 points per game for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013-14, but he does have a far more impressive all-around game. And that makes me think about his future in Chicago.
Young has averaged 12.1 points per game with the Bulls this season with 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists over 57 games. His assist percentage sits at 24.8 percent, which is by far a career-high and ranks in the league’s 96th percentile. Likewise, Young’s true-shooting percentage checks in at a career-high 59.8 percent, as he continues to score at the rim (67 percent) and at the short mid-range (52 percent) at the most efficient rate of his career, per Cleaning the Glass.
The veteran forward’s combination of scoring efficiency, defense, and playmaking made him one of the most highly-coveted assets at the trade deadline. Every contending team across the league can use a spot-starting big man who limits mistakes, finds the open man, and finishes consistently. Not to mention, a player that has 51 career playoff appearances and is nothing short of durable (has missed just five games in the last four seasons). Every team trying to change their culture and regain relevance can also use a player like that, which is why Young will finish this season in Chicago.
Take a look past the remaining 11 games, however, and things get hazy for the Bulls fan-favorite. Young is under a partially guaranteed contract for next season, but whether or not the front office will choose to keep the salary on the books is an important question. Committing fully to Young for another season would technically cost the team $14.1 million, whereas moving on from him would mean just $6 million out of pocket (so it’s sort of like an $8 million decision). All things considered, that’s not a small chunk of change for a team that still needs to upgrade a significant portion of its supporting cast.
Young has undoubtedly done a lot for this revamped franchise behind the scenes. While his play has been instrumental in whatever success the Bulls have found this season, it’s likely his off-court professionalism and relationships (very close with Zach LaVine) that kept him off the trading block. At some point, though, that can only go so far. The fact of the matter is that Young turns 33-years-old in June and he likely isn’t a part of this team’s long-term plans. This doesn’t mean he still can’t help next season, but it does mean the team might have to consider finally capitalizing on whatever value he has.
The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry touched on this same topic in a recent article, presenting a rather interesting scenario where Young could, once again, become trade bait.
The Bulls’ sudden win-now approach suggests they will hang onto Young. His contract structure, however, might have appeal in trade talks well before the start of next season. Keep an eye on the July 29 draft. If the Bulls want to trade into the first round this year, Young could provide the pathway to do it. Playoff contenders could make a play for Young as a rental, while rebuilding teams could be enamored with his partially guaranteed expiring salary, believed to be a relatively low $6 million.
Interesting. VERY. INTERESTING.
To be clear, Mayberry isn’t reporting this as something he believes the Bulls prefer, but the mere idea of it is something to keep in mind, especially when we consider how this season could end. I have to assume at least part of the motivation for keeping Young was the playoff push. The Bulls still have a chance to crack the postseason, but it’s safe to say the whole thing hasn’t gone according to plan. The potential failure could convince the organization to make even more drastic changes and think even more long-term. Karnisovas and Eversley are also two executives who have been praised for this talent evaluation chops, so having an urge to sneak back into the 2020 NBA Draft wouldn’t at all be surprising.
We can think even more broadly about a Young trade, though. The draft would not be the only place to strike a deal, and the fact the FO was willing to give up their pick in this year’s draft could insinuate that they are not all that high on anyone outside the top-4 to begin with. So, instead, they could look to deal Young some other time in the offseason or even sometime around next season’s trade deadline.
Either way, Young is an asset the Bulls still have in their back pocket. While they may not have executed a trade while he was at his absolute peek this season, I do expect that plenty of interest in the market remains for all the reasons we talked about near the beginning. Anyway, it’s just one of many storylines we’ll have to keep an eye on this offseason.