The Chicago Bulls and the NBA trade deadline are on course for a collision. And no one, likely not even the team’s front office, is entirely sure about the team’s focus and/or approach.
Chicago is 15-17, the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference, but just half a game back of the eighth-seed Charlotte Hornets. Zach Lavine was named to the All-Star roster, and head coach Billy Donovan has this team on the right path.
Then there’s Thaddeus Young. The 32-year old forward and 14-year veteran is having a career season, helping to elevate this Bulls team with some superior playmaking and consistent execution on the defensive end. Young’s averaging a career-high 4.4 assists per game and leads the team in steals on the season with 36.
Which, as is a surprise to few, has pushed him to the top of NBA executive wish lists going into this trade deadline.
As the team prepares to meet and discuss their potential paths moving forward, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times noted both the Miami Heat and New York Knicks as potential suitors for Young in the coming weeks:
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this month that several teams were intrigued with the idea of Young bolstering their bench, as well as providing a versatile frontcourt option to close games. He would be an instant boost for teams going for that late-season push, such as the Heat or Knicks.
Cowley isn’t reporting any interest here, or at least, it doesn’t appear that way, but this is the first time there have been actual teams linked to Young by name.
Maybe there’s some smoke hovering above Madison Square Garden and American Airlines Arena? Oftentimes, that does lead to a fire.
If the Bulls are Going to Trade Young, Now is the Time
Thaddeus Young’s trade value may never be higher than it is right now. Even in his 14th NBA season, the veteran forward is playing the best basketball of his career. He’s been the Chicago Bulls’ second-most important player this year, leading his All-Star teammate LaVine to dub him the team’s MVP.
In addition to his career-high assist numbers, Young is averaging 11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. He’s under contract through next season at just $14-million, which by all accounts should be considered team-friendly.
Young’s capable of impacting the game off the bench and within the second unit. Teams would likely find a way to play him in their closing five-man lineups, but otherwise, that’s an incredibly appealing quality for a role player. He’s never averaged more than two and a half assists on a season, let alone three, or four even.
Striking the iron while it’s hot is a cliche that may have never been more fitting. It’s rare that a veteran with no championship pedigree is playing the best basketball of his career at age 32. That kind of anomaly almost insists that the Chicago Bulls trade Young now, before this potential hot streak runs cool.
The Heat and Knicks are Unlikely Trade Partners
Both Miami and New York have the salaries to make a deal for Young work, but only one of them has the kind of asset Chicago should be interested in, draft compensation.
The Knicks hold both their own and the Dallas Mavericks’ first-round pick in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. The Heat can’t trade an unprotected first until 2028, and can’t really risk giving up any of their rotation guys right now.
After starting out 7-13, they’ve done a complete 180, going 10-4 since. That’s the kind of fragile chemistry where one wrong move could throw it all off track. Young doesn’t need the ball to be effective, but it’s what’s gotten him this far with Chicago. He’s posting a 26.3 percent assist rate on 19 percent usage.
Elsewhere, head coach Tom Thibodeau has built a top-five defense in New York, and would likely love to have someone like Young coming off the bench next to some of the Knicks’ younger guys.
But would the Knicks give up two valuable first-round picks for a bench contributor? Maybe if the Bulls included Lauri Markkanen in any deal, New York wouldn’t have any other choice. There’s been reported Knicks interest in the 21-year old forward in the past, and his agent and the Bulls failed to come to terms on an extension.
New York’s got a few young guys like Kevin Knox, who’ll still be on his rookie deal going into next season. Finding rotation minutes for him in Young’s absence wouldn’t be difficult, and Chicago could attempt to replace the veteran’s offensive output by targeting a guy like Alec Burks and/or Austin Rivers.
There’s nothing incredibly attractive about a package from either of the Heat or the Knicks if it means no draft compensation. If those two are unwilling to make it work on that end, expect other suitors to emerge for Young.