Thaddeus Young has been a part of four different rebuilds.
He was the 25-year-old veteran leader on Year 1 of the Trust-the-Process Philadelphia 76ers in 2014. He was a trade casualty during the Timberwolves’ 16-win 2015 season. He was the leading rebounder on a 2016 Brooklyn Nets team that won 21 games, and he was a holdover in Indiana in the wake of the Pacers trading perennial All-Star Paul George.
Young is now a 31-year-old veteran entering his 13th NBA season on his fifth NBA team. He has left each of his previous four stops in a better position than when he arrived. His last general manager, Kevin Pritchard, went so far as to publicly thank Young on Twitter after news broke that he was signing with the Bulls on June 30.
But he also has plenty left in the tank. He isn’t simply the sage veteran acting as a de facto assistant coach from the end of the bench. Young just played 81 games for the playoff-bound Pacers, averaging 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in nearly 31 minutes. He’s talented, healthy and a well-respected veteran. So why, then, did Young pass on the handful of championship-aspiring teams in free agency to join a Bulls team that has won 49 combined games the last two seasons?
“It was more about need than anything. I felt like this team needed me in the process,” Young said Monday at Bulls Media Day. “I felt like this team would give me a chance to come and help lead, help build something, help grow something and build some culture.”
Though the Pacers never truly went through a rebuild, they went through a franchise reset when they dealt George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in 2017. Young was both the second oldest and second most experienced member of that team, and he helped transition a young core that included Oladipo, Sabonis, Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic into a new era.
The Pacers didn’t skip a beat. Pegged for the Lottery by Vegas and NBA analysts alike, Indiana won 48 games, earned the fifth seed in the East and finished with a top-12 offense and defense.
Young understood what building a culture looked like – and what the end results could be – which is why we took this summer so seriously. He spent time with Team USA trying out for the FIBA World Cup team, but after failing to make the first cuts in early August, he turned his attention toward his new team. The Bulls’ well-attended September workouts were all the talk at Monday’s Media Day.
“That was one of the biggest things in Indiana, was the brotherhood, the culture was there,” Young said. “And we went from there and it translated over to the court.
“A lot of people always say that once you get in between these lines it starts, but it doesn’t start in between the lines. It starts in the locker room, where we’re sitting there shooting the bullcrap. We’re sitting there talking and playing amongst each other.
“It starts in there, building that camaraderie, building that brotherhood with one another and then it translates out to the court. If you don’t like each other in the locker room, then you’re not going to like each other on the court.”
Young is not only the most experienced member of the Bulls. He has spent more years in the NBA (12) than any two Bulls (Otto Porter’s six years and Zach LaVine’s five years are next on the list). The Bulls have 91 games of playoff experience on their roster. Young makes up more than half those games (51). He was LaVine’s veteran mentor during LaVine’s rookie season in Minnesota, and he was older then (26) than LaVine is currently (24). He’s exactly what the Bulls needed after losing Robin Lopez to the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency.
And yet, Young isn’t slowing down. He has played 81 games each of the last two seasons, and in both campaigns he simply rested the final game of the season with the Pacers locked into their playoff seeding. He logged nearly 2,500 minutes last season; LaVine led the Bulls with 2,171 minutes last season.
Young was fifth in the NBA in deflections per game last season. The two players behind him? Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. The 1.4 loose balls recovered per game he averaged last season were tied for 19th in the NBA, and he was tied for sixth in the NBA with 23 charges drawn.
“When these guys see a guy who’s going into his 13th season going just as hard, taking charges, and diving on the floor for loose balls and stuff like that, it makes them want to go out there and do the same thing,” Young said. “It makes them want to play at a high intensity level.
“So just bring a lot of intangibles to the game but also respecting the game and making sure that my teammates are being led the right way and make sure I’m helping them grow their games the right way.”
Young’s skill set and intangibles would be important for any young team, but his impact is amplified because of his new frontcourt teammates. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are in line for significant roles this season, and Young’s mentorship and lead-by-example attitude will serve them well. It’s not dissimilar from what Young did in mentoring Pacers’ bigs Myles Turner and Sabonis. Turner was the starting center for Team USA after leading the NBA in blocks per game, and Sabonis finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.
“Having Lauri and having Wendell, you just want to see what they can do,” Young said. “And I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of helping them build something great, building a new culture and just being a leader out there for these guys and just showing them how to win and showing them how we can get ourselves to the playoffs.
“That was one of the biggest things, was taking on that challenge and being ready to go out there and do the unexpected.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.