Ego isn’t a problem for Thaddeus Young and it’s a reason why he’s perfect for the Pacers

Thaddeus Young telling coach Nate McMillan to keep Domantas Sabonis in the game — and to leave himself out — is another reason he is the perfect teammate, and why the Indiana Pacers should want to keep him around.

A cliché from coaches, fans, and anyone around sports is how players are supposed to be selfless to the point of absolute martyrdom. If that’s how you feel, then Thaddeus Young should be your favorite player after he told coach Nate McMillan to leave Domantas Sabonis in the game late in the Indiana Pacers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Indiana was on what would become a 19-5 run, but despite his competitiveness, Young was OK with letting Sabonis and Turner close out the game. It was clear the five players on the court had something special going.


With his team down 11 during a timeout with 6:25 left, McMillan subbed Thaddeus Young out of the game. Just for a couple of minutes, he told his captain, you’ll be right back. But a couple of minutes later the Pacers had pulled within a point thanks to a 13-3 run, forcing a Thunder timeout with 4:04 remaining.

OK, McMillan told Young, go back in.

No way, Young said.

“I told him they had it rolling,” Young said after the Pacers’ 108-106 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That unit was playing so well, so I told him let them rock out. Leave them in. He said, ‘Stay ready.’ I said, ‘I’ll be ready regardless, but let them play. They have a good flow going and I don’t want to mess it up.”

What else do you want from a teammate?

Young is a veteran and doesn’t need to acquiesce to the younger players. But by doing so on Thursday, he set an example for the team and helped them win a game but putting his ego second.

Young recognized he wasn’t having his best game. While the Pacers are almost always better with him on the floor, Indiana posted a net rating of -13.8 when he was in the game Thursday. It just wasn’t his night.

It was clear Indiana was thriving with Sabonis and Turner holding down the frontcourt. The eye test, the stats, and the scoreboard all agreed. While Young is critical to Indiana’s success, that doesn’t mean he is in every single moment of every single game.

Those closing moments also gave us a glimpse of Indiana’s future lineups with Sabonis and Turner.

Thaddeus Young’s future with the Indiana Pacers

Will Thaddeus Young be with the Pacers next season? There’s no real way of knowing at the moment.

Young’s defense and role as a player who doesn’t need plays ran for him makes him perfect for Indiana when he shares the court with shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic, creators like Victor Oladipo, and ball-handlers like Darren Collison. Young takes advantage of the chances he gets while rarely demanding the ball.

But his contract expires at the end of this season. He will be a free agent in July. Previously, Indiana’s shown a reluctance to give him the years he wants on what will likely be his last significant contract in the NBA.

That doesn’t mean the Pacers don’t want him back, but questions about for how much and how long, as well as if Kevin Pritchard simply sees Indiana going another direction won’t be answered anytime soon.

Young will be 31 when the next season tips off, and while he isn’t old-old, he isn’t young anymore, either. There’s a point over the next few seasons where Father Time will catch up with Young, even if his game isn’t predicated on sheer athleticism.

That doesn’t mean Young isn’t worth keeping around — he is still one of the better power forwards in the NBA — but there are some realities to the situation that must be considered.

If the price is right for both sides, and perhaps if Young is willing to accept a lesser role if the Sabonis-Turner lineup continues to find success, then it’s hard not to want him to return. With decisions like the one he and McMillan made on Thursday, it’s clear he is a team player and a leader. Finding a role for him doesn’t seem to be the hardest part of the equation when next season arrives.

But basketball remains a business. Young is clearly a part of the team’s success over the past three seasons, but when the summer comes, he and the Pacers will decide whether both sides plan on him being a part of the future.

I hope he is.