LAS VEGAS — After an abysmal 22-win season in 2018-19, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said the Bulls intended to add culture-changing veterans in free agency. At 6:01 on June 30, the Bulls followed through on that promise, quickly agreeing to a three-year, $41 million deal with 12-year veteran forward Thaddeus Young, who spent the previous three seasons with the Indiana Pacers.
Young was an unexpected early signing, given that he will likely come off the bench behind Lauri Markkanen at power forward. But if Paxson’s goal was to bring in serious-minded professionals to put around Chicago’s burgeoning young core, he accomplished it. Speaking to reporters at Summer League for the first time since officially signing with the Bulls, Young expressed a desire to get the most out of the likes of Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter, Jr. and help the Bulls return to the playoffs for the first time since trading Jimmy Butler in 2017.
“It starts by not getting tired of the grind,” Young said. “Not getting tired of the competitive nature. A lot of guys, they tend to get tired of the competitive nature, of coming to practices each and every day and playing over and over. But when you do those same things over and over, it helps you get better as a team, and it helps you win more games as a team. We just have to continue to keep that grind, continue to stay focused on the task at hand, which is winning basketball games, and hopefully we get to the playoffs.”
Young was in Las Vegas watching the Bulls’ Summer League team drop their second straight game, a blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. The main attraction of Chicago’s teams has been No. 7 overall pick Coby White, whose performances have been up-and-down through three games at the event. Young likes what he sees in the newest member of the Bulls’ young nucleus, even if he acknowledges that White has a ways to go before becoming a productive player at the NBA level.
“He's a decent point guard that's very aggressive,” Young said. “Sometimes he picks his dribble up a little bit. But just from watching a couple games, I think he's going to be very good in this league. He's young, he's still got a lot to learn, but I can tell he's one of those kids that's very smart, very bright, and he'll be able to learn on the fly in a hurry. I'm looking forward to playing with him. I watched him at Carolina pretty much the whole season, just because I'm a basketball junkie. I watch all the games. I watch all the guys. And I know guys are trying to come in every year trying to take my job, so I have to pay attention. But I think he has a very high ceiling and he wants to win.”
Young and White aren’t the only new additions the Bulls have made this summer. They also signed veteran guard Tomas Satoransky and agreed to a deal with center Luke Kornet (the latter of which has not yet been made official). Satoransky joins Young as one of the proven veterans the Bulls’ front office has brought in, which they’re hoping will add depth in case they suffer another injury-plagued season like the one they just finished, which saw nearly every core player miss significant time.
“I think we have a well-rounded roster,” Young said. “Last year, we just had so many guys that were hurt and out due to injury, that you couldn't really see the potential of this team. When they were healthy, they were a force to deal with. They played hard, they were aggressive, they continued to fight, and they did things that can help a team win. But like I said, injuries limited them a little. But going in, changing the culture, being the leader. It starts with being that mold where we're doing something repetitively.”
Young has seen plenty of things in his NBA career. He’s been to the playoffs and been a part of the worst team in the NBA in Philadelphia, and everything in between. He’s a durable veteran who knows his role and plays within himself, and every playoff team needs those sports of players. Coming from a very good Pacers team, Young is embracing the challenge of helping guide the Bulls from the depths of the lottery back into the postseason.
And he’s well aware that it starts with changing the culture.
“It's a young team,” Young said. “I've taken on that role plenty of times in my career. Being in Minnesota, we had Zach and [Andrew Wiggins]. Come to Indiana, we had those guys had just won 40 games. We had to reshape our culture after Paul George leaves. We have a 42-win season with Paul and then a 48-win season and another 48-win season. But the guys got younger. You had Victor Oladipo coming in, you had Domas [Sabonis], you had a Myles Turner. I've taken on that role as a leader and helping shape and build a culture. And then we all know what happened in Philly. I was there at the start of the Process. We had a horrible season, but I went out there and played my butt off each and every night.
“It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight, but at the end of the day, I was swinging with that knife. So I've been in those situations before. I understand those situations. I know the task is very, very hard. I carry that weight each and every day. I know I can help these young guys get better, I know I can push them over the hump.”