Thaddeus Young eager to help change Bulls’ culture and return to the playoffs

Thaddeus Young eager to help change Bulls’ culture and return to the playoffs

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.”

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

USA Today

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

In case you forgot, Jim Boylen once worked for Rudy Tomjanovich. In fact, the former Rockets coach gave Boylen his NBA start, hiring him as an assistant coach and video coordinator way back in 1992.

Boylen saw first-hand the coaching chops and commitment Tomjanovich displayed as the Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles while Michael Jordan was playing baseball in the mid-1990s. So it's beyond loyalty when Boylen says he believes, like many others, that Tomjanovich belongs in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The organization named Tomjanovich a finalist over All-Star weekend in Chicago.

[RELATED: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett highlight Hall of Fame finalists]

"He's deserving," Boylen said. "I don't know why he's not in there yet. It doesn't make sense to me. Two championships, a gold medal."

That's a reference to Tomjanovich coaching USA Basketball's gold-medal winning team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tomjanovich is an occasional visitor to the Advocate Center to watch Boylen.

"What he did with those Rockets teams and his playoff games — sixth seed in '95 — nobody's duplicated that. To win it from the sixth seed, play on the road like we did," Boylen said. "He has an unbelievable record in elimination games, which I think is a true test of your coaching and being able to communicate your message. I think he's getting in."

Does Boylen possess inside information?

"No," Boylen said, smiling. "He's due."

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Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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