Q&A: Thad Young talks Bulls tenure, trade to Spurs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
SAN ANTONIO — Fifteen minutes passed, then 20. And still, Thad Young kept putting up shots after the Spurs’ Friday morning shootaround, working himself into a lather.
It likely will represent Young’s most strenuous workload of the day since he’s on the outside of the rotation looking in at the Spurs’ youth movement and rebuilding effort. Acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the Bulls, Young is averaging 13.8 minutes, the lowest of his 15-year career.
It’s in sharp contrast to the role Young played last season with the Bulls, particularly before they traded for Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis. Young arguably posted one of his best seasons as Billy Donovan ran offense through him. His 4.3 assists represented a career-high and earned him the nickname “Thadgic Johnson" from NBC Sports Chicago analyst Stacey King.
After his workout, Young pulled up a padded folding chair with a Spurs logo on it and talked about his two seasons with the Bulls, his impressions of this season’s team and how much longer he plans to play.
The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
NBC Sports Chicago: What’s it like to move from playing at such a high level for the Bulls last season to this smaller role with the Spurs?
Thad Young: "I definitely didn’t see this coming. It is what it is. All I can do is just continue to trust my work and trust my craft, the time I put into the gym. I’ve stayed in shape. I put a plan together in case I do get that call where I have to play. The times I have played, I think I’ve played decent. The biggest thing for me is when you haven’t played in a certain amount of games, your timing and rhythm is off. But as a veteran, you have to stay prepared. I think I’ve done a good job of that.
"The one thing about being here, yes, I haven’t played much. But they can’t say I haven’t worked. I haven’t come in and acted crazy or was detrimental to the team. I came in from day one and tried to talk to guys, tried to help young guys. No matter if I’m playing or not, my [situation] is my [situation]. I’m not going to put that on them. Yes, I want to play. But that’s not the direction the team is going in. The direction is we have to play the young guys and they have to get groomed and ready for their careers. I’m not a decision-maker. But the one thing I can do is continue to work and make sure I’m ready when I’m called."
NBC Sports Chicago: When you look back at your two seasons in Chicago, what stands out?
Young: "Just the moments that I had with my teammates. Those are all great guys. We all know I love Zach (LaVine) to death. And he feels the same way. Getting a chance to help groom Pat (Williams) and Coby (White) a little bit. And then the staff was great. I loved having conversations with everyone on staff and making sure the guys were good.
"And then just being in the city and having people on your side telling me to stick with it because things were going to change. The moves to acquire Vooch (Nikola Vučević) and (Daniel) Theis, those were necessary things that had to be done to try to make the team better. If I took a bump in minutes or a bump in my role, I was fine with that as long as we were on pace to try to win games. Obviously, it did kind of decrease everything for everybody across the board. But developing those relationships everywhere I’ve been has been great for me because it has given me a chance to meet people from all different rounds."
NBC Sports Chicago: What do you think of the season the Bulls are having, especially because the guy you were traded for is playing at such a high level?
Young: "I mean, we all knew what type of player DeMar is and what he continues to be. We know that DeMar is going to continue to be an All-Star. He’s a dynamic player, a superstar in this league. He’s been doing what he’s been doing for years.
"I would say the good thing is I’m happy to see Zach actually get a chance to win basketball games and get that playoff feeling. It’s a shame I’m not with him. But these things happen. It’s a business. You have to be ready for each situation. But I’m happy to see those young guys play in games that mean something and get a chance to learn in a winning environment. Once you get that feeling, you don’t ever want that feeling to go away. It continues to keep you hungry."
NBC Sports Chicago: What was it like to be playing at the level you played at last year and Stacey calling you “Thadgic Johnson” and the new regime trying to change the culture?
Young: "I mean, I think it opened up a version of me that a lot of people hadn’t been able to see — my ability to adapt to the situation. Being able to feed my teammates, it showed my ability to be a point forward or even a point center. It’s always a great feeling when you’re playing well. But you want to play well and win games."
NBC Sports Chicago: When the trade happened, did you think you’d be playing here?
Young: "I wasn’t sure. Obviously, everyone saw the rumors of me going to different teams or I wasn’t going to start the season with the Spurs or I wasn’t going to be here very long. But none of that matters until it actually happens. So, to me, it’s about my preparation and staying ready. And wherever I go, just do the best I can and hopefully I get an opportunity to showcase what I can do."
NBC Sports Chicago: I listened to your appearance on “The Alex Kennedy Podcast” with BasketballNews.com where you said you found out about your trade from the Bulls via Twitter. Was that hard?
Young: "Of course it does bother you when you just talk to your agent and your agent was telling you that you’re going to be there and you’re going to be able to potentially win. And then you’re thinking, ‘OK, I’m getting ready to go back.’ Plus, they had just guaranteed my contract. So I’m starting to gather my things and go back to Chicago, calling around to make sure I have a home secured for me and my family.
"And then I was in the parking lot of Sports Academy (in Frisco, Texas) and my phone just kept buzzing. That’s from the mentions on Twitter and Instagram and people texting me. So I’m like, ‘OK, what happened?’ So I pop my phone up and see DeMar is going to Chicago. And I’m like, ‘OK, that’s good.’ And then I’m like, ‘Wait, my phone wouldn’t be buzzing like this unless I was involved.’ So I dived a little deeper and seen Woj (ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski) say the trade was for me and Al-Farouq Aminu and that was it. I immediately called my agent and said, ‘What happened?’ (laughs) We just had a conversation literally like a day or two ago where I was told I probably wouldn’t be traded.
"I’m not mad about it or anything like that. Honestly, it’s not really about the whole trade. It’s more so that if it was going down or if something was happening, I would’ve liked to have been the first phone call before it hit the news so I could know and not be hit by something that was so unexpected. Artūras (Karnišovas) and Marc (Eversley) called and texted me later. They’re very transparent people. Obviously, when things go down like this, they have to get the team in order. That’s their job, to make sure their team is in order first. If a player is traded, that player is going to the next team and that player is going to converse with his next team as opposed to continuing to talk to the team he just came from.
"It’s part of the business. I’ve been traded before. For me, my next move is always let’s figure out where we’re going to live, my training situation once I get there and how to continue being a pro. That’s my job. It’s not to worry about the business side. It’s to focus on the pro side. That’s keeping in shape and being ready every time I step on the court and putting my all to the new team I’m with."
NBC Sports Chicago: This is Year 15. How much longer do you want to play? I know family is important to you.
Young: "The good thing about myself is I’m in really good shape. I can go run three miles on the treadmill right now at nine, 10, 12 miles per hour and mix in a lift in between with no problem at all. There have been days I’ve come here to this gym and after I got done shooting, I’m running suicides. The day my body can’t continue to do the things I want and need it to do is the day I retire. But right now, my body and my brain and my physical ability is still holding up. I think with time given, I can still average over 10 points a game in this league and still be a factor on any team and help any team."