DEERFIELD — The Bulls assigned second-year point guard Marquis Teague to their Bulls’ D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy, Thursday.
Unlike the first time it happened — on the heels of November's Circus Trip — the 20-year-old will likely stay for a while, instead of getting immediately recalled, which occurred then, when now-waived point guard Mike James suffered a sprained MCL injury. This time around, with Kirk Hinrich recovered from a lingering back ailment and the team’s latest acquisition, D.J. Augustin, playing well, the minutes simply aren’t there for Teague, barring another injury at the position.
But the assignment will also serve another practical purpose: Teague’s confidence was clearly sagging as of late, and getting significant playing time without having to nervously look over his shoulder could help the speedster rediscover the glimpses of potential he flashed in July for the Bulls’ summer-league team in Las Vegas.
“It’s not a demotion, it’s not anything like that. It’s an opportunity for him to get some playing time. When I say playing time, we’re hopeful it’s significant, where it’s three quarters of a game, so he just can play. He’s had some good moments here. We want him to continue to develop, so we think it’s a good opportunity. I think you’re seeing more and more teams do that now, where you send a guy down,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained after Friday’s practice at the Berto Center. “You have a stretch where maybe he can get some games in quickly, get some more experience and then come back. So it’s not a demotion. It’s for him to go down there and get some playing time.”
While it’s certainly a distant possibility that the Bulls could recall Teague because of stellar play in Iowa and he could earn minutes in the rotation, it should be noted that the organization hasn’t used the NBA’s minor league system since the 2010-11 campaign, when former first-round pick James Johnson — who, coincidentally was playing for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley franchise after not getting a guaranteed contract to start the season and was recently signed by Memphis, quickly becoming a member of the Grizzlies’ rotation at the moment — requested the assignment to get playing time, shortly before being traded to Toronto. The Bulls share the Energy with four other NBA teams — Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans and Washington — meaning there’s no guarantee that Teague will play heavy minutes or in a system similar to the one in Chicago, unlike franchises that have direct affiliates that are owned and operated by the parent teams, as has become a recent trend in the league.
Still, Thibodeau insisted that the assignment will benefit Teague, whose third-year option was picked by the Bulls at outset of the regular season.
“He’s a very confident kid, he’s still learning, he’s young. This is all part of it. You have to look at it in totality, where you’re saying, ‘OK, he’s done a good job with his individual work, he’s practicing more like a pro.’ It’s an opportunity where, OK, he can get out and play. That never hurts, and you see it,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of guys that have come out of that league, that have gotten significant roles in this league and if you look at the history of the minor leagues — Bruce Bowen, a Mario Elie, John Starks — you can go on and on.”
Thibodeau’s history lesson on the CBA notwithstanding — for his part, the now-defunct league, the D-League’s predecessor, did have a strong track record of launching the careers of overlooked players — viable NBA players, such as former Bulls point guard C.J. Watson, got their initial opportunities after stints on that level.
“That league, and for whatever reason, it probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves, in many ways, it might be better than college basketball. You’re talking about guys that were college stars that were playing in that league and oftentimes, maybe they’re not in because of an injury, where they could have made the roster and for whatever reason, they didn’t,” Thibodeau said. “But you see a lot of good players come out of that league and there’s a lot of guys that get better year after year, so we don’t view it as a negative and I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t either. It’s an opportunity against high-level competition, to play and develop.”