DEERFIELD — Marquis Teague might be young, but he also has a maturity about him that belies his 20 years and an understanding that professional basketball is a business.
Some of that is undoubtedly the product of coming from a basketball family and having an older brother, Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague, preceding his path to the NBA. However, the second-year Bulls reserve, who does more observing than talking, just seems to have a demeanor equipped to deal with adversity.
That’s why, when reports broke that he was being shopped, that the Bulls could be looking to trade him, Teague remained unfazed.
“I don’t really listen to it,” he told CSNChicago.com on Monday. “I just worry about where I’m playing right now and try to get better.”
A league source confirmed rumors that the likes of Minnesota and Utah expressed at least initial interest in the Indianapolis native, who saw scant playing time in the Bulls’ first two preseason games before playing 25 minutes in Saturday’s win over Washington in Rio de Janeiro while starter Derrick Rose was sidelined due to soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee.
Teague didn’t fare particularly well in the outing, committing four turnovers in the victory, but Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that the performance wouldn’t determine his fate moving forward, at least while he remains a member of the Bulls.
“There’s been good and bad. I’m not going to base how he’s doing by one game. To me, it’s what he does every day. What he did all summer, what he did in the fall, how he’s handling practice,” the coach explained Tuesday. “That (second) unit didn’t play well. He’s in charge of that unit. He’s the point guard. He has to run the team. He has to get everyone playing to their strengths. That’s the responsibility for a point guard. He’s capable of doing better, as is that entire unit.”
After a strong summer league in Las Vegas and by all accounts constant work on improving his outside jumper at the Berto Center even prior to the beginning of Bulls training camp, it was easy to have high hopes for Teague’s sophomore campaign in Chicago before considering the obvious: Rose’s return and a veteran presence backing him up in the form of Kirk Hinrich. Whatever displays of poise, fearlessness and upper-echelon speed Teague showcased as a rookie, when he didn’t look out of place against top-tier floor generals like All Stars Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo — not to mention holding his own in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series — are now reduced to small sample sizes in exhibition play, no matter what Thibodeau says.
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Now competing against experienced free-agent camp invite Mike James, 38, for the Bulls’ third-string, emergency point-guard role, it shouldn’t shock anybody if he again receives little playing time, gets extensive minutes or anything in between in Wednesday night’s preseason home opener. Whether or not Teague will be in Chicago for the long haul, the advice he’s been dispensed by his coach will benefit him, as reducing his ball-security issues, as well as progressing as a perimeter threat, will likely decide what type of career he embarks upon.
“Just keep staying under control, just keep learning,” Teague said Thibodeau has preached to him. “He says I’m doing a good job, getting better each and every day. That’s pretty much what he’s been telling me.”
Perhaps of more significance is what he’s heard from his brother, who started his career as a seldom-used backup in Atlanta before seizing the Hawks’ starting job, ironically in their 2011 second-round playoff series against the Bulls, when Hinrich, of all people, was sidelined with an injury.
“He told me, ‘You know how the NBA is. You’ve got to be ready for your moment. When it comes, that’s when you’ve got to take it,’” the younger Teague recounted. “I’m playing behind Derrick, Kirk. So when it comes, I’ve got to be ready.”
That’s not to say something as dramatic as both Rose and Hinrich going down — an occurrence that would probably give Thibodeau, as well as the Bulls’ entire fan base a heart attack — or even necessarily a change of scenery to a more up-tempo squad with available playing time and the patience to see through the developmental process is required for Teague to thrive as a pro.
But after having to follow in the footsteps of his brother as a top-ranked high-school prospect, making the transition from scorer to distributor in his lone college season for the national-champion Kentucky Wildcats, dropping to near the bottom of the first round in the 2012 NBA Draft and now, dealing with trade rumors before his second professional campaign officially commences, it says here that banking on the quiet, unemotional speedster to eventually make his presence felt isn’t an unrealistic gamble, especially considering his age and disposition.
“I stay ready. I know it’s a long season, a lot of things can happen,” Teague calmly stated. “Guys get injured, guys get tired, a lot of things happen, so you can’t really worry about the negative things. You’ve just got to stay ready.
It's still extremely early, so all this trade buzz could all blow over and be long forgotten later in the season — though a move would have some financial benefit for the Bulls — or it could resolve itself very quickly and Teague could be wearing another uniform in the near future. Either way, that even-keeled approach, along with his natural talent and work ethic, will pay off in the long run.
Even if it isn’t in Chicago.