Even at age 32 and in his 14th NBA season, Bulls forward Thaddeus Young is having an unexpected impact. He is averaging 11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and, in his newly forged role as a point-forward, 4.4 assists. He seems to have given up on his 3-point shot but has been efficient nonetheless, shooting 59.8% from the field.
He is also heading into a season in which only a portion–$6 million—of his contract will be guaranteed. That combination of performance and financial flexibility figures to make Young an attractive target on the trade market, and ESPN’s front-office guru Bobby Marks noted this week that in a “straw poll” of GMs, Young was deemed the player who (after Bradley Beal) could have the most impact at the trade deadline.
Not so fast, says NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson, who has been on the Bulls’ beat for two decades. While Chicago once looked hapless enough to warrant selling off a veteran like Young for any available asset, the team’s prospects for the postseason have improved and the way Young has guided young players like Zach LaVine add to his value.
As Johnson warned, “Unless the return is a lottery pick or a promising young player, trading Young might be a mistake. This kind of production — career-high assists average, a plus-7.1 net rating when he’s on the floor versus a minus-5.3 net rating when he’s off it — no longer falls into the category of ‘get any asset’ for him.”
Playoff Spot Worthwhile for Bulls?
The Bulls aggressively pursued Young in free agency in the summer of 2019, giving him a three-year contract worth $41 million, though with that key partial guarantee in the third season.
The hope was that Young would be able to bring some professionalism to a collection of young players that had collided with the Gar Forman-John Paxson front office and with head coach Jim Boylen repeatedly. The Bulls went 22-43 last season, though, and Young’s impact seemed limited.
But this year, Chicago has been an improved team, now 15-17 after Friday’s loss to Phoenix. The Bulls have won seven of their last 11 games, and are currently ninth in the East—but only one game out of the No. 4 seed in the crowded conference.
LIVE: Thaddeus Young media availability after tonight’s loss to the Suns. https://t.co/fI12rep93N
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 27, 2021
While a trip to the playoffs would not be all that significant for the Bulls, because they’d likely be out in the first round, it could serve as an important building-block for the young team’s development. Chicago has not been to the playoffs since 2017 and only two players (Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio) were on that team.
Zach LaVine: Thaddeus Young is Bulls MVP
Probably the biggest reason not to trade Young is the breakout play of star guard Zach LaVine, who is averaging 28.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists and was named to the All-Star team this week.
LaVine has never been to the postseason, and some playoff experience would be an ideal way to cap his season—trading Young would potentially shred Chicago’s playoff hopes.
He’s also formed a tight bond with Young, who was dubbed “MVP of the team” by LaVine earlier this month.
“He does a little bit of everything,” LaVine said of Young. “He can damn near average a triple-double. He makes up for our mistakes defensively, guards some of the best big men every night. Even if he’s undersized, he knows how to play tricks with them. He has been great for us. (Monday night), he showed that again with crucial plays — getting charges and rebounds, being physical. He’s the type of guy you love to have on your team.”