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What to make of Thaddeus Young’s lack of playing time

There’s a few possible reasons why Pop has stopped playing Young in meaningful minutes.

When the San Antonio Spurs acquired Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, and some picks for DeMar DeRozan over the offseason, it was pretty clear from the start that the draft capital was the partof the trade the Spurs valued the most. The two players were older vets who didn’t fit the Spurs’ rebuilding timeline and were entering the final year of their contracts, so it was easy to assume they wouldn’t be around too long.

That partly came to fruition when the Spurs, who were over their 15-player allotment for guaranteed contracts, waived Aminu before the start of the season, but it wasn’t surprising to see Young stick around, as he was still putting up good numbers and provided a veteran presence for a team that had suddenly become extremely young. However, in part because the Spurs’ agenda doesn’t align with his, his playing time has been sporadic. Combined with his dissatisfaction over being traded in the first place (the Bulls reportedly told him he was safe, just for him to find out he was traded via text while in an Academy parking lot), this has created an awkward relationship between the two parties.

After three DNP’s in the first five games, he briefly found his niche with the club over a nine-game stretch while the Spurs were missing Jakob Poeltl (and later Jock Landale) to COVID protocols, leaving just him and Drew Eubanks as the team’s only two healthy big men. During that time, Young averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds on over 60% shooting in 22 minutes per game and looked at home with the bench unit. However, since then he has only appeared 11 of 14 games while averaging just 8 minutes, mostly in garbage time, with Eubanks back to being the first big off the bench.

Amidst the drop in usage again, Young has been expressing his displeasure of the situation and desire to be traded to a contender to the media. While trading him at some point has likely always been a part of the Spurs’ plans, it’s fair to wonder why they have stopped using him in the meantime, and here’s a couple of possible reasons.

Young’s griping has put him in Pop’s doghouse

When Young received a DNP in the Spurs’ season opening win against the Orlando Magic, his wife instantly took to social media to express her displeasure, and he has done the same with both the local and national media throughout the season, even during that stretch when he was part of the main rotation. It’s hard to blame him for not being happy — he didn’t ask to be here and has never been in a situation where he wasn’t a part of the main rotation before — but taking issues out-of-house is not the Spurs’ way.

There’s no way of knowing if he has had private talks with Gregg Popovich about the situation — Pop has said nothing about it one way or the other — but one would think if there was a mutual understanding between the two parties, Young wouldn’t be taking his grievances elsewhere. Possibly in response, the idea could be that if he’s unhappy with the playing time he’s getting, then maybe those who are happy with any playing time are getting a shot.

To that end, perhaps another telling sign that Pop is not overly interested in playing him right now came in Friday night’s thrilling victory against the Utah Jazz. With Eubanks picking up four fouls and looking overwhelmed by the Jazz’s interior defense in the first half, Pop made a move almost no one saw coming in the second. When it was time to rest Poeltl, Landale was the first big off the bench and provided an instant spark that led to the Spurs’ comeback. While Pop said after the game the move was designed to draw Rudy Gobert out of the paint (something Young would not have done), it was still a surprise since normally Young would have been the one to fill in for Eubanks.

There’s no telling if Young actually is in the doghouse or not, but now that even Landale has possibly jumped him in the rotation, it’s fair to wonder. Of course, there is also another reasonable possibility . . .

A trade is in the works

With December 15 now past and a vast majority of players eligible to be traded, it’s possible the Spurs are already working on possible trades for Young, and the last thing they would want is for him to get hurt and put an end to any possible trade. Some might say not playing him is counterintuitive and lessens his trade value, but the reality is he has been in the league long enough that every team knows who and what he is, and they shouldn’t need a third of a season to show them that.

Not to mention, the Spurs aren’t going to get much more for him on his own than a project, another relatively low paid veteran, and/or draft picks, so it’s not like they need his value to be so high that they can get a starting-caliber player in return for him.

Ultimately, while Young has always felt like a temporary Spur, and it’s not hard to see some contenders or solid playoff teams looking for that “one more piece” to get them over hump reaching out about him, it seems for now he’ll just need to accept his fate and wait it out. By all accounts he is been a consummate professional with the team and mentor for the young player, so hopefully it can remain that way while he stays ready to play when called upon, and eventually both parties will get what they want.