Daniel Theis was inserted in the starting lineup for Thad Young on Friday, and as long as Donovan sees production, especially from Young with the second unit, he’s willing to stay the course with this group.
There’s a method behind the madness of the latest lineup reshuffle.
And make no mistake about it, if this lineup doesn’t work over the next few games, Bulls coach Billy Donovan isn’t afraid to go back to the lab and put another new-look out there.
Even with Zach LaVine in the league’s health and safety protocol after testing positive for the coronavirus, Donovan wanted a change with his bigs on Friday, opting to start Daniel Theis and move Thad Young to the bench.
He further explained why on Saturday, and made it very clear that it was more about what Young brought to that second unit than some kind of demotion for the veteran.
“Some of our guys that are obviously still here, that were here as part of the team before the trade, those guys I think are comfortable with Thad,’’ Donovan said, referring to the likes of Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Denzel Valentine. “And I think it allows him to be really productive. Certainly there has to be some times where [Young] and Theis or he and ‘Vuch’ [Nikola Vucevic] are going to have to play together, but it was really to try and open up some things for Thad because I think he’s played so well for us this year, and he’s been such a catalyst and facilitator for us offensively.’’
The other side of the move was also to add some defense to the starting lineup, especially in the rim protection department, which is Theis’ specialty.
Where it will get interesting is when LaVine does return, will Donovan flip the starting lineup script yet again? He’s set on giving this frontcourt lineup a look with LaVine, but don’t bet against him again making a change.
“I think with Zach being out it made sense to do that,’’ Donovan said. “I’m not opposed to doing it when Zach does come back just to see what it looks like, but I think all of those big guys are going to have to play with each other and learn how to play with each other.’’
The Theis dilemma
The Bulls acquired Theis from the Celtics knowing the free agent-to-be was in a walk year, but Donovan made it very clear that they have longer hopes for the forward/center.
While he hasn’t had specific conversations with executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas about pursuing Theis, he knew enough about the situation to comment on it.
“We didn’t get into maybe that depth of conversation, but I would say in our conversations, there’s no question that myself and Arturas and [general manager] Marc [Eversley] really like him as a player,’’ Donovan said. “So I would think that our hope would be a long-term possibility. But with free agency coming up and guys having the opportunity to make their own decisions, I understand that. But he’s someone we really like a lot and feel like could be somebody that could be really good for us going forward.’’
Donovan has remained in contact with LaVine, while the All-Star was quarantining, and offered up an optimistic report on where the guard was mentally.
“He actually is doing well and obviously he’s disappointed,’’ Donovan said. “I’ve checked on him more because I think it’s always hard for a player when you get alienated from the team like this and then there’s no interaction at all and you’re not traveling and you’re not with us in the locker room and you’re not with us in the facility. It’s hard. You’re just by yourself, and that can be hard.’’