The Chicago Bulls began their season with one of the youngest starting lineups in the NBA. But when the team was at its most competent, reliable veterans often stepped to the forefront to compliment the two All-Stars in town.
Thad Young put together perhaps the best season of his career. Daniel Theis added defensive intensity and rim protection the team lacked. Garrett Temple was one of the steals of free agency. And Tomáš Satoranský was the team’s most steady point guard for most of the year.
Each roster spot occupied by one of Chicago’s wily veterans could be up for grabs this summer, depending on how the Bulls executives approach a critical offseason. Theis and Temple are unrestricted free agents, available to negotiate with any other team. Young and Satoranský are both on partially guaranteed contracts, which gives the Bulls flexibility should they need to clear salary cap space for other moves.
Here’s a look at the decision the Bulls are facing with each player:
Can the Bulls afford Daniel Theis?
There’s no question the Bulls were happy with the production they got from Daniel Theis after acquiring him at the trade deadline, but did he play well enough to become part of their plans going forward?
“We liked his addition at the trade deadline,” vice president Artūras Karnišovas said. “He’s bringing that toughness and defensive presence as a big. He’s a good diver. He can shoot from three.”
The Bulls — and just about every team in the NBA — looks for those attributes in a big, and Theis proved to be comfortable playing next to Nikola Vucevic. But Theis, 29, will also hit the open market almost certain to earn a raise from the two-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Boston Celtics two years ago.
The Bulls have some cap space — but not a ton — so signing Theis could take away resources to address other holes on the team. The only other option the Bulls have is to work on a longer extension at less money per year.
Will Garrett Temple get his wish?
Consider Garrett Temple bought in on the direction the Bulls are headed.
“I think the leadership — AK, Marc (Eversley), Pat (Connelly) — and then the coaching staff that they brought in, Billy (Donovan), has done a great job of starting to set a culture here,” Temple said. “Culture, it’s a cliché word, but it’s something that actually does happen if you want to become a good team.
“And it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years to create that. So I think it’s definitely going in the right direction. I was pleasantly surprised by the organization, by the coaching. It was really good. It’s a bright future.”
At his end-of-season press conference, Temple explained why he would happily re-sign with the Bulls if he gets the chance this offseason. An injury and an absence for COVID-19 shortened his season, but he always made an impact when he stepped on the floor. Temple, a smart perimeter defender and savvy offensive player, was a mentor for Coby White and one of the earliest believers in Zach LaVine’s ability to take a next step.
“I would love to be here and be that same veteran presence, that defender, a guy that the young guys can lean upon, coach can lean upon to impart things to the team,” Temple said. “I feel like I got a few more years to play, to really compete on the court, so I would love to be back… finish what I think we started here in terms of being able to get to be a contender in the East.”
Does Thad Young deserve to be rewarded for his season?
Thad Young’s career year at age 32, in his 13th season in the NBA, quickly became one of the pleasant surprises of this Bulls season.
Young was nicknamed “Thagic” by announcer Stacey King for his impressive passing skills every night. He dished out a career-high 4.3 assists per game, while averaging 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds and earning some third-place votes for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Young was so good that LaVine called him the MVP of their team earlier in the year.
“He does a little bit of everything,” LaVine said. “He can damn near average a triple-double. He makes up for our mistakes defensively, guards some of the best big men every night. Even if he’s undersized, he knows how to play tricks with them… He’s the type of guy you love to have on your team.”
It might be hard for the Bulls to walk away from Young after such an impactful season, especially considering his relationship with LaVine. But if the Bulls need to clear cap space, his contract could be a casualty.
Did Tomáš Satoranský play well enough to stick in Chicago?
Tomáš Satoranský is in the same boat as Young with a partially guaranteed deal, but he did not put together a season anywhere near as impressive.
Sure, Satoranský was once again a solid backup point guard, even stepping into the starting lineup for 18 games. He is a solid passer and team defender and he’s filled in admirably when the team needs a ballhandler to run the offense.
The Bulls have been struggling to properly address point guard for years, however, and Satoranský has proven to be solid, if unspectacular, running the position. Coby White figures to be one of the team’s building blocks going forward, so should the Bulls find an upgrade at point guard this offseason they could chose to move on from Satoranský.
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