Maybe it means nothing, just an opportunity for a struggling young player to get some playing time and confidence after losing his spot in the rotation.
But the Bulls’ assignment of second-year point guard Marquis Teague to the Iowa Energy, their D-League affiliate, Tuesday could also be the first domino to fall. In the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury and now Teague’s demotion, it’s clear that the Bulls are in need of another point guard with only veteran Kirk Hinrich, reprising his fill-in starter role, and 38-year-old Mike James in reserve.
The Bulls have been wary to use the NBA’s minor league—the last time it was utilized was in the 2010-11 campaign, when former first-round draft pick James Johnson actually asked for the assignment, shortly before being traded to Toronto—and since the team shares its affiliate with four other NBA franchises (Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans and Washington), it isn’t as if Teague will be running the same plays that are being utilized in Chicago, so the assignment should also be viewed as somewhat of a wake-up call for the 20-year-old. After falling out of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that patience in Teague’s development is starting to wear thin, even with 10 healthy players on the current roster.
When asked before Monday’s triple-overtime loss to the Pelicans if he talked to Teague about losing his second-string status, Thibodeau responded vaguely, “You’re always talking to your players. You’re doing what’s best for the team, so that’s the way we deal with those things.”
Thibodeau has faith in Hinrich and James moving forward, but given the former’s track record of injuries and James’ advanced age, not to mention the team’s lack of overall depth; it would make sense for the Bulls to at least make a short-term acquisition, perhaps signing a journeyman point guard to a 10-day contract for insurance purposes. But while the team’s management is unlikely to seek out a direct replacement for Rose’s dynamic scoring and playmaking abilities, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls eventually make a trade to acquire an experienced true floor general, particularly because both Hinrich and James are capable of playing on or off the ball.
Although the likes of All-Star small forward Luol Deng and power forward Carlos Boozer have been widely discussed as more likely to be dealt in the aftermath of Rose’s injury, perhaps the candidate to focus upon is veteran newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr., coming off a season-high scoring effort Monday.
It’s not a knock on Dunleavy, who’s shot the ball at a high clip, which is exactly what was expected of him when he signed with the Bulls as a free agent in July, hoping his spot-up shooting ability would be a complement to Rose’s drive-and-kick game. But if rookie swingman Tony Snell continues to demonstrate that he can knock down shots, as well as defend and make plays capably, with starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler’s eventual return from a turf-toe injury, the Bulls’ wing rotation will suddenly be very crowded and given how much spacing the floor is prioritized around the league these days, Dunleavy’s long-range marksmanship and palatable contract will be highly coveted come Dec. 15, when offseason acquisitions can be traded.
For now, Teague’s time in Iowa should be viewed as a temporary stint, hopefully one that results in positive growth for the speedster, who had a good offseason, including starring for the Bulls’ summer-league team in Las Vegas. If it starts a chain reaction of events, however, it shouldn’t be completely unexpected.