The accounts at the NBA trade deadline in February couldn’t have been any different.
Outside the Bulls’ locker room at the United Center stood former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, who fielded questions about the organization standing pat. Asked whether there was any interest in veteran forward Thaddeus Young, Paxson responded, ‘‘No, no.’’
Inside the locker room minutes later, Young had a much different view. According to him, he had been in contact with his agent and had been told multiple teams were interested in him.
It was just another ‘‘he said, he said’’ — and maybe the best way to sum up Young’s experience with the Bulls.
Before joining the organization as a free agent last summer, Young’s credentials were stellar. He had built a reputation as the ultimate locker-room guy, an ideal leader and someone who never rocked the boat.
Leave it to the Bulls — the fifth team he has played for — to break him.
Early in the season, a minutes dispute between Young and coach Jim Boylen reared its ugly head. Young, who had averaged 30-plus minutes per game in four consecutive seasons, knew he would sacrifice some playing time to join the Bulls, but he never imagined he would be at about 21 minutes per game through the first few months.
Boylen bumped up Young’s playing time slightly, but the real boost came only after power forward Lauri Markkanen was sidelined for six weeks with a pelvis injury. So while Young entered the NBA shutdown averaging 30-plus minutes per game in the last seven weeks, it was out of need, not because Boylen wanted to play him that much.
And not only were the minutes an issue, but so were when they were handed out. Young figured his experience and skills would be perfect to close out games, but Boylen employed a closer-by-committee mentality, using guard Zach LaVine and whichever four other players he deemed were in a good rhythm or had the right matchup.
Young is from the school of roles being more defined, and he didn’t see that happening consistently with the Bulls. Privately, he said he was confused about how Boylen went about making his decisions in that regard.
The Bulls’ signing of Young was a classic case of right guy, wrong time.
On paper, Young was supposed to be versatile enough to back up Lauri Markkanen at power forward but also be able to play small forward. The Bulls also expected Young to play alongside Markkanen when they moved Markkanen to center. It all sounded good.
The reality, however, was that Young no longer could guard small forwards the way he used to and that Markkanen struggled at center. That left them fighting for minutes at power forward, and Markkanen was a developing talent the Bulls wanted to build around when the season started.
The Bulls are on the hook for all $13.5 million Young is owed next season and have partial financial protection for the $14.1 million Young is scheduled to make in the 2021-22 season.
Young and Markkanen can’t coexist on the same roster. Considering Markkanen’s youth and ceiling, expect new head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to shop Young again this offseason.
Whether the Bulls were being honest or not, the fact they couldn’t move Young at the deadline this season was somewhat concerning. The new regime will get it done, however. Young will be packaged at the trade deadline next February and sent to a playoff contender.