Young Hoping to Maintain His Place with Pacers

It's easy to forget about Thaddeus Young, given all that went on with the Pacers' roster over the summer.

There was the loss of fan favorite Lance Stephenson and two other popular players, Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson, which coincided with the addition of three free agents and two draft picks. Then came the intriguing reports of Victor Oladipo's team rally in Miami and Myles Turner's reinvention in Fort Worth.

Amid all of this, Young quietly accepted the option on the final year of his contract rather than test free agency. That means the upcoming season could be his last with the Pacers, or could be the bridge toward a new contract that might take him to the end of his career with the franchise.

The strong preference in the tightly-knit Young household is for the latter option.

Thad crossed the threshold into his 30's on June 21, a significant marker for any NBA player. He's played 11 seasons for four teams and knows he's never had it as good as he has it now as a starting forward on a cohesive team that took an NBA finalist to seven games in the playoffs last season and appears to be improved heading into this one.

He would love to plant deeper roots in Indianapolis, as would his wife Shekinah and sons Thad Jr. (8) and Taylor (5). Thad Jr. (TJ) in particular followed Dad's contractual situation on the internet over the summer and already is wondering what happens after this season.

"For some reason they kind of understand it," Young said of his sons. "I don't know how. They come to me and say, 'Are we leaving Indiana?' I say, 'No, we ain't leaving. Daddy made his decision.' And they're like, 'This is the end of your contract." I say, 'We'll talk about that later, TJ.'

"But they want Daddy to stay here. They have friends. They play all damn day on (the online game) Fortnite with them. I had to do a cease-fire (on Sunday) because Fortnite was taking over. No Fortnite until 7:30. And they only had an hour to play."

Young hopes he's not also directed toward limited playing time this season. He averaged 32.2 minutes per game last season, second only to Oladipo, but that workload is threatened by the potential pairing of Turner and Domantas Sabonis. If those two still-promising 22-year-olds can achieve better results than last season when they are on the court together, Young could be a minutes casualty. Coach Nate McMillan doesn't view Young as a "three" who could slide over into the starting position currently held by Bojan Bogdanovic and backed up by free agent signee Doug McDermott, so Young's status is tenuous beyond his contract.

"Right now I'm not concerned at all," Young said. "I know those two guys are the future of this franchise and they want to play them together to see how it works out, but at the end of the day I'm just going to play and let things work themselves out and be me and do the things I do to help teams win games."

Thaddeus Young

What else can he can say for now? Besides, he's earned the right to be confident. He's the most versatile player on the roster, the classic Swiss Army Knife who can contribute a wide variety of assets to a team, including solid defense. Especially defense, on many nights. And that doesn't include the non-measurable intangibles that make him a perfect fit for this team's chemistry because of his quiet, unselfish, and mature nature.

There's a stat floating around that shows Young to be one of the few players in NBA history to have career averages of at least 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.4 steals while shooting at least 49 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line after playing at least 800 games. He comes in at 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals, .499 shooting from the field, and .326 shooting from the 3-point line over 820 career games.

The short list of players who fit the category includes Larry Bird, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

That qualifies as one of those manufactured stats you see now and then in this era of information and analytics overload, something like ranking as one of the NBA's all-time leaders in 3-point shots from the left corner on Saturday games against Western Conference opponents. But it does speak to Young's versatility, which should make him a valuable asset in free agency.

Young hoped to sign a long-term deal with the Pacers during the offseason, and would like to sign a contract extension during the upcoming season. But he understands the Pacers' desire to maintain their own version of versatility regarding their roster and is confident he'll be able to find an NBA home for as long as his body allows.

"There's always a lot of options (for a guy) who can do a lot of different things," he said. "My skill set is needed around the league – thank God – but at the end of the day I'm happy I came back. I'm also happy I went through the process. That gives you a feel for what's to come. I just want to go out there and play and focus on the team aspect of everything and winning games."

"If we had done a long-term deal, I would have been extremely happy. Obviously when you don't get a long-term deal you're not happy, but it's not the end of the world. It could be worse. I could not have a job."

Young has maintained NBA employment for 11 seasons in a manner typical of a versatile player. The Memphis native stays on the move throughout the offseason and drops in in various locales for workouts. If he knows someone, he calls them and joins them. If he doesn't, he finds a gym with a shooting gun that kicks the ball back to him to put up shots.

"I figure out a way to get it done," he said. "I have a lot of resources."

One of them is in Cordova, Tenn., just outside of Memphis, where he leases a former warehouse that once housed an indoor soccer field but has been converted to include two basketball/volleyball courts. He has installed weights, a lounge, a computer lab, and other top-of-the-line equipment similar to what's found in NBA practice facilities for the benefit of the kids who participate in the programs there.

He doesn't own the facility, but "everything inside there is mine." He also has it written into his leasing contract that he has the right of first refusal to buy it if it goes up for sale.

"Just something I can go home to and have a good facility to train in and potentially build athletes to become pros," he says.

Much of Young's offseason workout time was spent on improving his shooting. Accomplishing that would undoubtedly tighten his grip on playing time with the Pacers and within a league that has come to practically require 3-point accuracy from anyone who dares step out to the perimeter. When Young entered the NBA in the 2007-08 season, league teams averaged 18.1 3-point attempts per game. Last season they averaged 29 such attempts. Non-shooters risk extinction, and both Turner and Sabonis shot slightly better from the 3-point line than he did last season.

3-point shooting has been the unpredictable element of an otherwise consistent game throughout Young's career. He's been all over the map with his accuracy. He peaked at 38 percent with the Pacers two seasons ago on 1.6 attempts per game despite playing with a badly sprained left (shooting) wrist over his final 25 games. Last season, however, he dropped to 32 percent despite taking more (2.2) attempts per game.

He also was a 35 percent shooter between 10 and 16 feet.

The NBA game changes fast, and hungry youngsters are always on the prowl for more playing time. It's impossible to predict where Young - and his family - will be living this time next year, but the upcoming season will provide plenty of hints.

No matter where he winds up, he'll likely find a way to fit in.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.