What's next for Bulls' Josh Giddey? ‘Coming off the bench is not something I’m trying to do’

Josh Giddey carries two expectations for his next chapter with the Chicago Bulls.

The first is that he will be the franchise’s starting point guard. The second is that this change of scenery will be the key to unlocking his full potential.

“It was going to be hard for me to tap into my full potential on a team like (the Oklahoma City Thunder) where it was just so many talented guys who needed the ball in their hands and who were great with the ball in their hands,” Giddey said on a video call with reporters Thursday. “And a change of scenery was probably going to unlock more of that for me.”

The Bulls acquired Giddey, 21, from the Thunder in exchange for Alex Caruso last week. The straight-up swap surprised most observers, while a certain segment still wonders how the Bulls didn’t recoup any draft capital from the asset-rich Thunder.

But setting negotiations aside, the deal’s concept is the type of forward-thinking approach the Bulls have been heavily criticized for not orchestrating in the past.

They parted with one of the NBA’s premier defenders but turned the 30-year-old Caruso into a young asset who can be a building block. Chicago could have kept Caruso, extended his expiring contract and continued clawing to make the playoffs. Instead, the Bulls now have control of Giddey’s contract with the right to extend him before the start of next season or hammer out the details in restricted free agency next summer.

Without question, the trade is a lucid long-term play.

If it works, the Bulls will have secured another strong playmaker who can help spark an erratic and occasionally predictable Bulls offense. Giddey, at 6 foot 8, has great positional size and is a savvy passer, gritty rebounder and smart cutter. But he views himself as a classic, pass-first point guard who operates best with the ball in his hands.

“The player I am, my job is just to make the game easier for everybody else,” Giddey said. “That’s kind of what I wind up doing. Come in and make sure guys are getting easy looks, guys feel confident on the floor. I feel as a point guard when you can get other people around you going and making them involved in the game, getting them feeling good early, it opens the game up for everybody.

“That’s how I see myself. Just making basketball and the game simple for everybody else and making it easy for my teammates around me.”

Giddey also made it clear he sees himself as a starter. After a breakout season from Coby White, the Bulls must make a decision somewhere. Barring an offseason trade, Zach LaVine also remains in that mix. And any two-man pairing from the three wouldn’t be ideal defensively.

“I understand the team that’s here,” Giddey said. “There’s a lot of good guards, Ayo (Dosunmu), Coby, Dalen (Terry). They’ve got a lot of guys who can handle the rock. So I think it’ll make for (great) competition that we’ll have in training camp and things like that to push each other and be better. It’s going to be great. We’ll see what happens when the season rolls around.”

Giddey said he had little interest in moving to a reserve role in Oklahoma City, a shift Sam Presti, Thunder executive vice president and general manager, discussed with Giddey after the franchise fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round. Dallas game planned to give Giddey space, and his poor outside shooting in the series forced Thunder coach Mark Daigneault to bench him for the final two games.

Soon after, Presti and Giddey had an open dialogue about what would come next.

“Obviously, I came off a tough year. My role shifted a little bit,” Giddey said. “I was playing a lot more off-ball and kind of in a different role to what I’ve ever done in my career. So there was no secret that it was going to take some flexibility on my part to fit in with the team that we had and the structure that we had and the type of players that we had. He spoke to me about looking at potentially different roles, coming off the bench, running the second unit, things like that.

“And I just said to him, at this point in my career, I’m 21 years old, it wasn’t something that I was overly eager to do. And he completely understood. Throughout the whole process, we were open and honest with each other. And I said to him, ‘Look, coming off the bench at this point in my career is not something I’m trying to do and take a reserve role.’ He got it. We worked together through the whole process and he got me to a great spot. I’m very, very excited to be here in Chicago.”

Giddey reflected on the rough end to his season as a learning moment. He insists it will fuel him throughout this offseason.

“It was tough because as a player, first you want to get to the NBA,” Giddey said. “And then when you’re in the NBA, you want to be a part of big games in the playoffs. And I’ve dreamt of that moment for so long. For it to end the way it did, it kind of left a sour taste in my mouth for a long time. And it’s tough to go into the summer with that as your last stint in the NBA for that season. And it just showed me that there are so many things I have to work on to be able to be (valuable) in those moments.

Giddey was selected No. 6 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft and he made the All-Rookie second team. He averaged 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game in his second season, but those numbers dipped to 12.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists this past season.

“These are the lessons that I’d rather learn now as a young kid in my career as opposed to when I’m later in my career and it’s the first time I’ve experienced playoff action and I don’t know what to expect,” Giddey said. “It was probably a blessing in disguise for me. It taught me what I need to work on and how I need to get better.

“Obviously, shooting is a big one. But also the defensive end is something that I think coming into this offseason I switched my mentality. I just realized that to be at the highest level you’ve got to compete at that end. You’ve got to be able to sit down and guard guys. That’s a side of the ball that I want to take pride in. I think the offense will come naturally. But it’s that side of the ball that I want to take steps forward in to make sure when playoff time comes around I’m ready to go on both sides of the ball and not just one.”

Giddey declined to address how he’s grown personally after a months-long investigation by Newport Beach (Calif.) law enforcement and the NBA into Giddey’s alleged relationship with a female minor. Detectives completed their investigation in January and said they were “unable to corroborate any criminal activity.” The NBA also later dropped its investigation.

“Completely understand the question, and I know you’ve got to ask. That’s part of your job,” Giddey said. “But I’m just not going to comment on anything regarding that situation.”

Giddey, who is a member of Australia’s national team that will play at the Paris Olympics this summer, expressed excitement for a fresh start and reiterated his goal is to fit in with the Bulls.

“They’ve got a lot of good talent on this team,” Giddey said. “I’m looking forward to just coming and trying to emerge myself in it and not take away from anybody but just help this team continue to grow and get better.”

(Photo of Josh Giddey: Logan Riely / NBAE via Getty Images)

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