It’s easy to forget because he’s been buried on bad teams the last three seasons, but Thaddeus Young actually is a very good basketball player. And, if all goes as planned, we’re about to be reminded exactly how good he is now that he’s playing on a team that could actually contend in the Eastern Conference this season.
Young is remembering what it feels like to play for a team that legitimately has a chance to be good, and he couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to once again experience success. He hasn’t been on a .500 team since the lockout-shortened 2011–12 campaign, but that could very well change now that he’s the starting four on an Indiana Pacers team that nearly all pundits agree made massive improvements over the summer.
“It feels great to say that we can be a good team and mean it, but it’s all on paper right now,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We can be very, very good.”
Optimism has been hard to come by for Young, as each of his last three seasons have been with teams that sat near the very bottom of the standings. Between Philadelphia, Minnesota and Brooklyn, Young floundered in a trio of NBA purgatories. This would be a difficult stretch for any player, but it was particularly tough for a veteran like Young who had made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons in the league.
“It was frustrating,” Young admitted. “That Minnesota situation was just a down situation for me because, at the time, I was dealing with a lot of family issues. My mom had just passed away, and I was just trying to figure things out after that.”
It was November of 2014 when Young’s mother, Lula Hall, succumbed to cancer after a lengthy battle with the disease. Young was devastated and spent over a week away from the team, missing five regular season games as he grieved. He lost his mother just a few weeks into the season, and then the campaign was filled with challenges and losses as well. Minnesota would finish with a 16-66 record that season. Young was traded to the Nets in February in the deal that brought Kevin Garnett back to the Wolves, and he hoped the change of scenery would be good for him.
“I got to Brooklyn and tried to change things,” Young said. “I tried to have some fun and get back to myself, you know?”
But that also proved fruitless, as the Nets lost 61 games. Young scored 15.1 points per game, hauled in a career-high nine rebounds per game and took full advantage of the busy and entertaining life New York City can provide a 27-year-old man. Despite all that, he was back on a losing team and, as far as he knew, he was going to be back for another season with an even more questionable collection of talent.
“Initially when the summer had started, I was told by Brooklyn that they were looking toward the future and that it was going to take some time, and I was going to be around for it,” Young said. “Then, all of a sudden you’re hearing that you’re being shopped.”
Shortly after, Young got the call confirming that his frustrating (and short) tenure in Brooklyn was coming to an end.
“I was working out and my agent called me like six times until I was like, ‘Who the hell is calling me?’” Young remembers with a chuckle. “My trainer told me it was Jim Tanner, my agent, so I knew I needed to answer it. I really knew I needed to answer it because clearly something was going down. So I called him back and said, ‘Look, you’ve called me five times in five minutes. What is going on?’ He told me the move was going to happen, so I asked him where I was going. He said ‘Indiana.’ My first reaction was, ‘Okay. That’s cool, that’s cool.’ Some teams you don’t want to go, but Indiana, I was fine with that.”
How could he not be? After spending the last three seasons wasting away in such frustrating situations, Young finally was headed to team with some recent playoff pedigree.
“[Tanner] started going into all that agent stuff, talking about trade kickers and stuff, and I said, ‘That’s fine and everything, but I’m excited to have a chance to win again too,'” Young said. “He told me the team was making more moves so we could contend, and I just felt like that was perfect. It worked out so well for me. I’m happy I’m here, and I’m happy to play with a great group of guys who I really do like.”
He does appear genuinely happy on this team already, particularly with veterans like Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis around him. All three of those guys are Southerners, and they have already bonded in a way that looks like it will make for some good locker room chemistry this season.
“We’re having a lot fun with each other in the locker room already, especially with Monta and Al both being Mississippi guys,” Young said. “It’s been cool so far to have so many veterans around you and having guys you can talk to and relate to.”
Now, it’s just a matter of settling his family into a new city and finding his role on this new team.
“I was a little upset about leaving because I had just bought a condo a Brooklyn,” Young said. “It made sense, you know? I had just signed the big [$50 million] contract and I was supposed to be there for the next four years. The biggest part that made it hard, though, was our kids. My wife and I have two boys, 3 and 6, so you have to find new schools and get them acclimated too.”
Even that, though, has worked out perfectly.
“I can tell you one thing: Indiana schools are much cheaper than Brooklyn schools,” Young said with a laugh. “I was so hyped when they told me the price, I almost cried! I told them, ‘Where do I sign? When do you want the money? Do you want cash or check?’ It was just amazing.”
His home is significantly cheaper too, but that’s what you get when you leave NYC for the Midwest. It’s almost like getting a little raise just for having moved.
But, more importantly, Young finally has stability. After moving around so much in recent years, that’s a feeling he’s longed for and frankly deserves.
“This definitely is a place I can call home,” Young said. “It feels a lot like Memphis, which is where I’m from… It’s a very laid-back city, but a huge basketball town. I definitely like it here, and I’m very much acclimated. It didn’t take long at all, especially when you’ve been traded three times in the past two years. I’m enjoying it.”
With Indiana projected to be one of the better teams in the East this season, he should get to enjoy some wins too. The last time he was in the postseason was in 2012, when his Philadelphia team beat the top-seeded Chicago Bulls and seemed to be on a positive trajectory. Then, everything went downhill for him after that series.
Finally, things have turned back around, and Young’s smile is on display much more these days.
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