‘Siri, who is Tomas Satoransky?’’
That was the likely initial reaction for most Bulls fans July 1.
Heck, unless you were deep into fantasy basketball, a closet fan of the Wizards or an avid watcher of the NBA package, that was a valid response to the sign-and-trade deal that delivered Satoransky from the nation’s capital to the Bulls.
Inside the industry, however, the reaction was quite different.
“My first reaction was, ‘Damn, the Bulls pulled a fast one,’ ’’ a former league executive told the Sun-Times this week. “Sneaky.’’
And not just “sneaky’’ good. Coach Jim Boylen is hoping for “sneaky’’ great.
“Here’s what I love about ‘Sato,’ ’’ Boylen told the Sun-Times. “He knows he’s going to play because he doesn’t have any fear. See, we have guys in this league who are scared — scared of competition, scared of competing, scared of, ‘Am I going to play?’ ‘Sato’ has no fear he’s going to play. He doesn’t worry about that. When he plays, he’s going to play his balls off, and there’s beauty in that.’’
Boylen isn’t the only beholder of that beauty.
The Bulls shelled out future second-round picks for the 6-7 versatile guard, then quickly signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract, with only the last season including some protection for the franchise.
Was it a leap of faith for a 27-year-old coming into his own? Not to Boylen.
“When I presented to ownership and management on [April 24], and we’ve talked about this, but we needed to bring in the right kind of guys that can start or not start but help us win,’’ Boylen said. “[They] understand that when we win, everyone eats. When we win, the high tide raises all boats, that kind of mentality. Of course, everybody wants to start, but we all know that the best NBA teams, it’s eight or nine guys, 10 guys that can play.
‘‘So in my conversation with [vice president of basketball operations John Paxson] and [general manager Gar Forman], it was about what kind of character we can bring in that can still play, that can help us win because what we’ve needed is durability and availability. We haven’t had that.
“In looking out over the free agents and the guys we felt we could get, just looking at where Washington was and what they were trying to do, having some [cap] issues, he was the guy we targeted for all those characteristics I believe in.’’
It didn’t hurt that the Bulls had an insider to help sell them on Satoransky: Otto Porter Jr., who gave Satoransky his full blessing. Like Satoransky, Porter was part of the Wizards’ salary-cap purge, joining the Bulls in February on a deadline deal that sent Bobby Portis and malcontent Jabari Parker packing.
Porter was there to watch Satoransky eventually arrive from the Czech Republic after being drafted in 2012. Satoransky got his turn to shine when John Wall went down with a season-ending injury, then ran with it.
Of course, Porter was all-in on the move. And when Porter speaks, the Bulls listen. That’s how much respect they have for their veteran leader.
“Otto loved him, and ‘Sato’ loved Otto,’’ Boylen said. “Otto is a big part of this team. His trade is not talked about enough. We were 7-5 in February because, first of all, we got rid of [Parker], and we added a guy who brings synergy and chemistry. Otto has that synergy and chemistry with ‘Sato.’ ’’
X’s and O’s
So who will lose minutes because of Satoransky’s addition?
We’ll have to wait and see.
In all likelihood, Satoransky will challenge Kris Dunn for the starting role at point guard, but he can handle multiple positions and play on and off the ball.
Either way, Boylen has serious plans for his newest toy, and that’s why he visited Satoransky in Europe this summer before he left to play in the FIBA World Cup.
“The thing about ‘Sato’ is he can play the 1, 2 or 3,’’ Boylen said. “He can play 3 and actually handle the ball and play like a 1. He can guard 1, 2 or 3. We needed flexibility, availability, durability, positional size. He can post; we’ve seen him do that with the World Cup team.
“He can make plays, so I just wanted a versatile guy who can play basketball. He throws the ball ahead very well. We’re putting in a running game, and we’re going to run more. Sometimes guys have the excuse of, ‘Well, I’m not going to run out because no one is going to throw it to me.’ Well, this [expletive] guy is going to throw it ahead. He fills a lot of boxes for me.’’
As easily as he fills a box score.
In 54 starts last season, he averaged 8.9 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds and shot just under 40 percent from three-point range.
In his first two games in the World Cup — including a loss to Team USA — Satoransky averaged 16 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Boylen foresees Satoransky continuing that upward trend and, more important, being a key in building the team around Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
“He fits with what we will do,’’ Boylen said. “He can play off [the ball], he can play on it, and then you’ve got his vision of how the game should be played — with toughness and with selflessness. He was the perfect fit. We didn’t know if we could get him. We worked at it, and I think John and Gar did a terrific job of getting it done.
“When we first spoke, I just told him the truth. It’s amazing how guys respond to the truth. When you promise a guy something, he says to himself, ‘Who else is he promising [expletive] to?’ When you don’t promise anyone anything except coming in and doing work so we can be a team, it resonates with these guys now.’’
Satoransky isn’t the typical Euro.
If he gets punched, he’s punching back.
It’s that makeup that has Boylen even more excited with the addition.
“I think he actually grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I just didn’t know him when I was growing up,’’ joked Boylen, who was raised there. “Because he’s a nasty bastard.
“The thing that sold me on him was I remember when he played here [Feb. 10, 2018]. He had a big game, and I think Bobby [Portis] took him out [on a flagrant foul]. I saw him in the hallway after that game. I walked up to him, and he was already showered and dressed, talking to some people, and I said, ‘Hey, how you doing, man?’ Because that was a nasty fall, if you recall. He was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to be fine. I’m ready to play tomorrow.’ It wasn’t, ‘Yeah, Coach, I’m banged up or he hit me hard.’ It was, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ I mean, he looked like he had a full concussion, but I just like that mindset of, ‘No, I’m playing.’ ’’
Boylen hasn’t witnessed that mindset too much with the Bulls.
Dunn has been in and out of the training room since arriving in the Jimmy Butler trade, and the same could be said of LaVine and Markkanen. Satoransky and the other key offseason addition — Thaddeus Young — have a somewhat different mentality: If it isn’t hanging off or broken, you play.
“[Satoransky] values the parts of the game where you’ve got to bring an edge,’’ Boylen said. “That’s what we need more of, that’s what we’re talking about, that’s what we have to get better at. And then within that, he can play in a system. He can make people better on and off the ball. He can communicate.
“I went over to Europe and spent a few nights there with him. I watched his team, ate with him, rode on the bus, had good talks with him. He’s one of these guys that as I’m talking to him about what we value, he’s nodding his head, ‘I got it, Coach. I know. I know what we have to do. I know where we’re going.’ He never asked about minutes, never asked about starting. He never asked about shots, the offense, and it’s not because he’s a dumb-ass. He just knows what really matters.’’
And Boylen feels like Bulls fans will notice that quickly.
Fall camp is set to start late this month. Spots will be won and lost in that three-week period, and Satoransky will have a big say in that.
“Trust me,’’ Boylen said. “If fans don’t know him yet, they will soon.’’