Thad Young is too good and important for the Bulls to consider trading.
Posit that statement during the offseason and you’d be mocked. Now, though, suggesting Young needs to remain a Bulls beyond the Mar. 25 deadline has legitimate merit.
Young, 32, has been an integral cog within the Bulls’ offensive and defensive schemes. Beyond Zach LaVine, no Bull has been as important. Perhaps that reality is concerning given the Bulls, a rebuilding team that is banking on a collective of draft picks to boost the ceiling of the franchise, is leaning heavily on an ageing, high-end role player to keep them afloat.
Still, assuming the Bulls actually want to win games moving forward, jettisoning Young off to the highest bidder will drastically negate any chance this team has of making the postseason.
That’s how important Young is right now.
Despite coming off the bench for coach Billy Donovan, Young is posting career-highs in field goal and true-shooting percentage. More importantly, however, almost from nowhere, Young has emerged as the team’s most trusted playmaking option, dishing out a career-best 4.3 assists a game, while boasting a 24.7 assist percentage — a mark that almost doubles his previous best.
Rediscovering his old self that was seemingly lost under the guise of the Bad Bald Man last season, all while adding new elements to his offensive craft, has made Young an obvious trade candidate for contending teams looking to buy veterans to bolster their playoff rotation.
The opposite is seemingly true for the Bulls. Despite an 11-15 record, the team remains outside of the playoff standings and is still multiple pieces away from being a legitimate postseason team. Should executive Arturas Karnisovas decide to sell off his veteran players for draft capital at the deadline, he’d be justified in doing so.
But does that come with an unseen opportunity cost?
Young, who only holds a partial guarantee on his deal beyond this season, isn’t a long-term solution for the Bulls. While true, don’t mistake that for having zero value in the short-term.
At some point the Bulls will need to develop the talent already on the roster. LaVine has consistently improved each year. Is it a coincidence that his game has gone to the next level just as the Bulls have bolstered their bench with legitimately good and smart two-way veterans? Perhaps. But the best way to support and guide young, improving players is to surround them with experienced professionals who can help make life on the court that little bit easier.
Young does that.
As an example of his value, check out the dimes Young had last night in an impressive win against the Indiana Pacers.
The first possession in the above clip is a perfect example of how important a passing big is within a modern NBA offense. Young’s ability to throw a pass into the shooters pocket — and doing so while on the move — is the best and quickest way to move the ball from one side of the floor to the other. Moreover, his work as a dribble hand-off option is hugely important for an on-ball threat such as LaVine, who now has a legitimate pick-and-roll partner who can ease the playmaking burden on the Bulls’ should-be All-Star.
Now, imagine those same possessions without Young. Does that ball get whipped into the corner on that Satoransky three?
Is LaVine’s life made more difficult when trying to create on the perimeter without another legitimate option to play off?
Is Coby White forced to create even more half-court possessions with Young gone?
Does Wendell Carter lose out on the perfect template to mentor and model his game on if Young is moved?
Trading Young and removing him from the rotation will significantly impact the Bulls’ ability to put forth a respectable product on both sides of the ball. On offense, the high post passing hub leaves the playbook with Young. His ability to draw charges, play multiple positions, and captain a defense goes too. Is losing those skills and its impact on those around him worth a late first-round pick? Maybe? I doubt LaVine would agree, but Karnisovas may feel differently.
That’s the question that must be asked: Is a mid-to-late first-round pick more meaningful to this Bulls rebuild than Thad Young’s impact on those developing players already on the roster?
The last time the Bulls were faced with a similar scenario, they traded Nikola Mirotic, then the team’s best player, for Omer Asik, his inflated, dead salary, and a future first-round pick. That draft pick ultimately became Chandler Hutchison, a player who hasn’t come close to emerging as a real rotational piece.
It’s safe to say that trade didn’t work out. It’s only one example. The next time the Bulls pull the trigger on a similar deal, maybe fortunes change.
Most contending playoff teams could use Young. For a number of reasons, the Boston Celtics seem like the most realistic and obvious fit. The Celtics are underperforming thus far, so consider them a team who potentially will shake up their roster at the deadline. A versatile big man is something they could use. Young for a first-round pick makes some sense for both parties. I’m sure there’s a way to engineer such a trade seeing as the Celtics own a large trade exception which Young could easily be moved into.
In such a scenario, the Bulls net a first-round pick for an ageing veteran who has rehabilitated his value. That pick, plus the Bulls’ own, is a nice way to add young talent to this rebuild.
Don’t get it twisted, I certainly recognise the value of additional draft picks. Any extra chance you get at landing a young talent, even with a late first-round pick, you have to consider it. Maybe I feel differently if the Bulls can net a pick of more substance for Young, say something closer to No. 10 than No. 30. Of course, I’m not expecting that to be be possible, so why move Young for a pick that has a real chance at amounting to nothing, particularly when he’s adding so much value to the current team?
Furthermore, at what point do the Bulls make a conscious decision to actually improve the team in the short-term? Such a decision mattered less in years prior. Things have changed. The clock is ticking, and the future of the team’s best player must be determined.
LaVine has emerged as a legitimate All-Star. He also has the ability to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. Trading Young, arguably the best player LaVine has paired with during his tenure in Chicago, for draft capital, wouldn’t signal to the Bulls star that his franchise is serious about improving the on-court product. Would moving Young — and other vets like Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky — tempt LaVine to look elsewhere, particularly if his reputation of being a stat-stuffer on a bad team remains unchanged?
Scoff you might, but it’s a possibility, particularly as LaVine continues to deal with the perception of being nothing more than a one-way, score-only guard on a bad team. Rather the continuing to build through the draft or, worst yet, trading LaVine as the team did Jimmy Butler, how about actually trying to build around a star wing this time around? Instead of constantly looking to sell off good players, can the Bulls finally use their status as a large market team to wheel, deal and trade for players who improve the team, rather than casting away the few players who legitimately matter?
Keep LaVine. Keep Young. Add more players like them. Try to build a respectable that team will entice LaVine to stay and, best still, attract other players to come play in Chicago.
On the surface, trading Young for draft concessions may seem like an obvious, inconsequential move. It could also be the beginning of rebooting the rebuild.