Thaddeus Young walked to the waiting throng of reporters at Friday’s morning shootaround with a laugh and a smile.
“Can’t say I didn’t know this was coming,” the veteran said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Young landed in stories expressing frustration over his role, and with his morning comments, reiterated his desire to play more while maintaining the professional reputation that has defined his 13-year career.
Young got his wish during the Bulls’ abysmal showing in an 83-73 home loss to the Hornets, logging 26 minutes, 33 seconds. But at what cost?
Young received more playing time than Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ publicly stated cornerstone of the rebuild. At one point in the second half, Markkanen sat for 14:47 game minutes.
Pretty much everybody except Young and Ryan Arcidiacono endured a brutal night offensively. The Bulls set an NBA-season-low for points and shot 30 percent, including 20.6 percent from 3-point range. They also got outrebounded by 15.
But it’d be one thing if Markkanen had been playing poorly of late. After enduring a lengthy slump to start the season, Markkanen has been trending upward this month. Four of his previous six games produced 20-point outings and he entered Friday night shooting 52.6 percent on the month.
When Markkanen sank a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, he was 4-for-9 at the time for 10 points. Turned out, those were his final points.
“I don’t think so. I think he understands that I’m going to ride with guys who are playing well or guys that make the run, just like I have with him,” coach Jim Boylen said, when asked if his decision could affect Markkanen’s rhythm or confidence. “I overplayed him in the first half. Second half, it wasn’t the same rotation. That’s just part of the game.
“I have a scripted rotation. But it’s not in stone.”
Later, Boylen piled on all the starters. After scoring 10 first-half points, Zach LaVine missed his first seven shots of the second half and only scored two points after halftime. He and Markkanen were a combined 8-for-31.
“Overall, the first group was not good,” Boylen said. “Archie played well. Thought he was into the game. He found his shot, found his rhythm. So we let Archie roll a little bit. That’s going to happen. You’re trying to find guys who can help you make a run, get back in the game. We battled back.”
Playing Young more is fine. And indeed, the Bulls erased a 15-point deficit to cut it to two before defensive lapses led to back-to-back 3-pointers from the Hornets.
But if Boylen isn’t going to play Young at small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison out, playing time at power forward is going to be a storyline every game. Either Young isn’t happy or Markkanen, a franchise cornerstone, sits.
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Boylen said, when asked if Young could play some small forward. “We’ve talked about it.”
Like Young, who expressed frustration over his role while emphasizing he’ll do what Boylen asks, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker.
“I didn’t talk to Coach about that,” Markkanen said of his lengthy second-half absence. “Obviously, Thad played well. That’s Coach’s decision. It’s obvious for me that I can play much better. I didn’t play at the level that we need.”
Markkanen didn’t attempt a shot while playing the final 3:58. Did sitting so long affect his rhythm?
“You get a little cold,” he said. “But it’s part of it. You get warm again pretty quickly. Guys do it all the time. That’s not an excuse at all.”
The Bulls need to find a solution for the big-man rotation, which also requires minutes for Wendell Carter Jr. and the raw, athletic Daniel Gafford. A source said Young believed not only would he be playing more minutes this season but closing more games.
“The conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season, things change and come out a little bit differently,” Young said of the Bulls’ free-agent pitch versus his current reality. “The situation is not best-case scenario simply because I am playing 20 minutes a game. But if Coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, 30, I’m with whatever he decides. He’s the man in charge.”
Boylen said he merely talked to Young about leadership and building and his vision for this team’s future when the Bulls pursued Young in free agency. Either way, the current situation is as messy as the Bulls’ offense against the Hornets.
“We sucked,” LaVine said.
On that, everyone could agree.
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