Just like the rest of us, Tomas Satoransky is awaiting the NBA’s decision on the fate of the 2019-20 campaign. And just like the rest of us, he’s not sure which avenue the league will take.
In a wide-ranging interview with Dionysis Aravantinos on Euro Hoops’ Instagram Live, Satoransky broke down the pros and cons of the season returning — both from his and the Bulls’ perspective — and opened up about his first season with the team. Understandably, Satoransky said there would be greater incentive for players to compete in a playoff format, as opposed to working all the way back for a handful of inconsequential regular season games.
“There’s a few scenarios, if we would actually be able to play for something as a playoff, that kind of changes everything because it gives you some motivation,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “It’s tough for a player, especially a player with family. Imagine being two months separated from your family, just playing five or six games and be done with it.”
At the same time, not playing at all presents its own set of challenges, given burgeoning buzz that the 2020-21 season will tip off on Christmas Day. A nine-month layoff for a young team with a fresh-faced front office seems appealing on the surface, but at the end of the day, NBA players are competitors. And competitors thirst to compete.
“I think it’s difficult to imagine being without a game until December, this year basically being without games. That kind of changes your perspective also on being able to come back to finish the season,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “We are competitors and we want to compete against everyone. It’s tough, but I think basically they decided to do that because they want to bring safely the fans into arenas, and they are the biggest part of our game and I think it’s logical. But it could be very tough for each player to prepare for this season.”
Satoransky, specifically, will be itching to right the ship in 2020-21 after a tumultuous first season with the Bulls. While he established himself as an affable vet in the locker room and savvy distributor on the court, Satoransky’s overall production waxed and waned, especially shooting the ball. Even underwhelming 43/32.2/87.6 shooting splits for the season belie a 45-game stretch from December through March in which he shot just 26.8% from 3-point range.
For someone who attributed his ascension — from Wizards reserve, to reliable starter (in an injured John Wall’s stead), to $10 million per year Bulls signee — to his steady improvements as a jump shooter, that’s an alarming trend. But Satoransky doesn’t run from it.
“It was a lot of ups and downs,” Satoransky told Aravantinos when asked to evaluate his first season with the Bulls. “I’m never very satisfied after my years, and it was a lot, actually, for my first year. It was amazing, the kind of role I had from the beginning. They really took me as a vet — I’m second-oldest guy on the team, 28 years old — so that was great, the kind of respect I had from coaches and from the players.
“I really enjoyed that, but I wasn’t that effective like I was with D.C. I had a very tough summer before that — I don’t want to sound like those are excuses — but it was tough because the whole team was new, too. So, a lot of up and downs, a very young team. I really believe the second year we’ll be much better, but I can’t be fully happy with my performances this year.”
On the flip side, if the current Bulls rebuild has taught us anything, it’s that availability is an ability, and Satoransky was certainly that; he and Coby White were the only players on the team to appear in all 65 games before the season was suspended. White usurped Satoransky in the starting lineup in the team’s final game before the pause — a decision made on the basis of White’s scalding hot post-All-Star break play, and Satoransky’s swoon.
At the time, Satoransky handled that demotion with grace and candor. He did the same when asked about it by Aravantinos.
“I’m always about the team,” Satoransky said when asked about the decision to swap him out of the starting lineup in favor of White. “Obviously, I would be lying if I said that I don’t want to start (next season), because everyone wants to start, everyone wants to have a big role. But I think, you know, he (White) is very young, he’s a good guy, he was drafted very high and fans love him.
“He (White) was playing unbelievably after All-Star break, and the last game before, actually, the coronavirus outbreak, and I was OK with that because I struggled at the time.”
The Bulls might yet have basketball to play this season, but it’s never too early to establish goals moving forward. Satoransky pinpointed the playoffs as a target for the 2020-21 campaign (as they are every year, he added), and expressed confidence in the direction of the franchise.
“The project looks really good and really bright,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “We had some new changes in the front office that I love, both very successful guys. I know Arturas from (when Satoransky played in) Spain, as well, when I was drafted he actually worked for Houston if I’m not mistaken. And I really believe that they can give us new push, new fire.
“I do believe that we will play much better (next season), because it was typical for a young team. You know, when it looked like we could go on a run and play better, it came a bad game and it took all the confidence from us. But I think I like the way we progressed in practices, the way we learned new stuff, so hopefully this will give the confidence to the group.
Aravantinos also asked Satoransky for his thoughts on playing with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen’s potential and his experience watching “The Last Dance.”
On Zach LaVine:
“He surprised me a lot, from the beginning. I didn’t know much about him, what kind of person he is, but he always seemed to me on the court, well, I will say ‘arrogant superstar.’ But he’s such a nice guy, he’s funny. And I think we had a good relationship from the beginning. You know, he’s not only an athlete or dunker, he can do a lot of things, he still works on his game, you know, he still can make better reads. But he had an exceptional season, All-Star level for me. And fortunately for me, we had a good relationship on the court, we had a lot of backdoor cuts, we had a lot of two-man situations where we kind of had a good chemistry there, and I love playing with him.
On Lauri Markkanen:
“I think it was a tough season for Lauri. He got injured after a little bit, he had some good stretches, but his performance was a little bit up and down, as well, because I think, like myself, he was struggling with the shot. But he has so much potential. Tall guy, strong, who can dribble, he can rebound actually, go coast-to-coast. Like all of us, you know, he’s very young and needs to work on some decision-making on the court, but like I said, his potential is amazing.
“It’s tough, you know, what? He is 23, 22 years old, it was his third season in NBA, fourth maybe, and everyone had so much expectation from him because he had an unbelievable season before. And it’s tough sometimes, you have to go through a season where you don’t play like you would imagine or like you would expect from yourself. But I think he’ll be fine. He’s a hard worker, he’s in the gym a lot, so he’ll be fine.”
On “The Last Dance”:
“As everyone who loves basketball, I was so excited for every episode. And probably also in this time even more people were so excited because no games were on TV. And so everyone probably was just enjoying every minute of the documentary, and it’s pretty amazing. As one of the biggest Michael Jordan fans, I knew a lot of stuff about him, but still there were some stories that would just amaze you.