Will Monday be the first day of the rest of Thaddeus Young's Bulls life. Or the beginning of the last look at the veteran handyman who was supposed to be glue for the ragged pieces of this young Bulls team, but instead has found himself in some sticky situations.
"He's tough, he's a vet," Zach LaVine was saying about Young following Saturday's loss to the Boston Celtics. "He's a dude who you love having on the team. You know what he brings. You know his mentality. He hit a big three and came up with some big stops and steals. I love having Thad out there."
It's just that Young, who was considered the major free agent signing for the Bulls last summer, hasn't been out there that much. Certainly not as much as he expected and hoped. It's even resulted in talks with coach Jim Boylen about more playing time.
This season is the first in the last seven years the 31-year-old Young, playing previously with Indiana, Brooklyn, Minnesota and Philadelphia, hasn't been a starter. That finally could change Monday in Dallas with Lauri Markkanen listed as doubtful with a sprained ankle suffered late in Saturday's loss. It seems unlikely Markkanen will play on this two-game road trip, missing his first games of the season.
Boylen, at times, has opted with a surprise starter to keep the bench unit the same. Boylen altered the rotation against the Celtics when he used just eight players with only Young, Coby White and Daniel Gafford off the bench. Without Markkanen's scoring and shooting threat, it seems likely Denzel Valentine will return to the rotation. Injured Chandler Hutchison is expected back after playing a rehab game with the Windy City Bulls Friday.
It's a crucial time for the Bulls with three consecutive losses and four in the last five to drop 10 games below. 500. Though still just four games out of seventh in the East behind the fading Nets. It's also a crucial time for Young with the NBA trading deadline exactly one month away. Will this extra playing time with Markkanen out be a springboard to an enhanced role? Or an audition for a top playoff team?
The Bulls have given no indication they plan to make a move or are unhappy with Young.
But Young's contribution has been limited.
The 6-8 forward has talked since signing about how his primary job was to help make LaVine and Markkanen All-Star players. Presumably he meant by playing with them instead of watching them so much. Young not only has been a regular with the reserves, but he's playing his fewest minutes since his rookie season. By a lot, averaging 21.7 minutes compared with averaging more than 30 per game since the 2012-13 season.
Young also is scoring in single digits, averaging 8.7 per game. It's his first time since his rookie season in 2007-08 averaging fewer than nine per game. He's also averaging a rebounding low since his rookie year. Long regarded as one of the most clever and efficient inside scorers in the game, Young is shooting a career low 39.5 percent. He's never shot below 45 percent in his career before this season.
Thad Young scores against the Celtics
Though rumors surfaced about his desire for more playing time, Young has retained a positive attitude with media with long, thoughtful answers and encouragement for teammates. He's played with desire and enthusiasm.
He's also bemoaned the tough luck and tough losses that have seen the team slump once again.
"There's a lot of close games that we could have won," Young said last week in a familiar refrain heard from many. "We talk about those games all the time. We talk about it to the point where it just hurts sometimes, where we're like, 'Damn, we could have won that game.' We don't want to keep coming into the locker room and saying that. We want to eventually win some of these games and get ourselves off that skid of not finishing games.
"I think some games we don't make the right decisions," said Young. "Or we have the right intentions and it just doesn't work out. As far as going out there and executing, sometimes we don't execute and sometimes the defense, it kind of picks us apart or they kind of see what we're doing. So we just have to get better in our execution, we have to get better in our decision making. But like I said, that's all signs of a young team. That's all signs of us trying to grow each and every game. We've just got to continue to do what we're doing, which is come into the game working."
Young's playing time has increased at times lately, 27 minutes against Boston Saturday as Boylen played Young some at small forward and then for Markkanen with the team making a fourth quarter run with Young in the game.
Though the curiosity has been Young's place with this Bulls team. Like a soap opera, Young has been restless.
Young long has been regarded as an unselfish and supportive teammate and mentor, one of the more respected veteran players in the NBA with an eclectic mid range game of flips and floaters that keeps defenses confused.
But the Bulls this season have mostly scorned mid range play in favor of three-point shooting. Young has tried. He's averaging 3.3 three-point attempts per game, the second most in his career and more than double his career average three-point attempts. But he hasn't been a good three point shooter in his career. He is averaging about 32 percent this season from the long arc.
Thus the reduction in minutes. Which has also caused some confusion with his role.
Assuming he starts Monday, it could bring some clarity to how he can play and help the team.
Young was asked after the Boston game about being part of a lineup of three interior players with Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. But his answer could have been about his future with the team.
"It was just going out there and playing some extended minutes and being able to be out there with Lauri and Wendell at the same time," Young said. "I think we were fine. We were better as far as the defensive side and moving the basketball. Just have to continue to stay poised. When you start shifting guys, it throws a lot of different things off for what we do as a team. This is very unusual territory when you start moving guys in and out of the lineup. It's just one of those things we have to continue to figure out as we go."