Tyrus Thomas managed to stay fit, despite being benched (Getty Images)
Tyrus Thomas’ failure to launch is his own damn fault. The man ticked off a series of coaches from Chicago to Charlotte, making poor on-court decisions while missing out on the sort of off-court work it takes to put on necessary NBA weight and – I don’t know – developing a simple jump hook.
A simple jump hook is the reason Al Jefferson will agree to a three-year, $41 million deal when the NBA’s transaction moratorium lifts on July 10. All Jefferson does is sit on that low left block, but sitting and scoring on that low left block helps win basketball games, and the Bobcats have decided to cast their fortunes through Jefferson’s righty hooks, while waiving the rest of Thomas’ two-year, $17 million contract along the way. As it was earlier in the season, the Bobcats are paying Thomas just to go away.
And this is a shame. Because Thomas doesn’t turn 27 until August, and he should be entering his prime as the sort of springy game-changer that the Chicago Bulls saw him as all the way back in 2006, when they basically used a second overall draft pick on the guy. Thomas’ move to Chicago was met with a chilly reception from since-ousted coach Scott Skiles, whose hard-tail tendencies also scared off potential draft pick LaMarcus Aldridge, whose pre-draft meeting with Skiles included a weird, icy stare that did nobody any favors.
Thomas never recovered. Though he tried, according to Charlotte Observer beat reporter Rick Bonnell:
I’m inclined to think players get too much slack and coaches get too much blame, but I have to say Thomas was treated poorly. Remember when they told him he wasn’t welcome to travel with the team on a West Coast trip? That was just demoralizing. And mean.
Beat writers show up way early for games. I’d walk into arenas around 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. tip-off and often Tyrus was either just in front of me or just behind me at the media/player entrance.
I’d be mulling around, looking for information, and there would be Thomas running drills before any of his teammates were in the building. He was trying to do the right thing.
Now, this is a small sample size. Bonnell has been around that locker room since the Bobcats were called the Charlotte Hornets, but it’s possible he’s only referring to the last part of the last season, when Thomas (who was dealt to Charlotte in 2010) was banished. This doesn’t argue away his clashes with Scott Skiles, Paul Silas, or Mike Dunlap.
The man was left behind, though. Literally, with the Bobcats last year, and figuratively with the NBA in general. Thomas was a late bloomer, a former guard that shot up in height and eventually shot up in fame when his LSU Tigers made the 2006 Final Four. He needed to be met by an NBA team with patience and an instinct to groom, and instead all Thomas got was a series of tough love-styled hardasses. Just because these coaches were saying the right things, it doesn’t mean they were doing the right thing.
Thomas’ role and minute allotment changed, seemingly arbitrarily. His talents were never given the attention they deserved by teams that seemed fixated on other (Ben Wallace’s hoped-for transformation, Larry Brown’s hoped-for final last stop, Charlotte’s hoped-for turnaround on the cheap) things. And the league left him behind. It really did.
This doesn’t excuse Thomas’ churlishness, or failure to develop. It just helps us, as Bonnell noted, understand it better. Which is sad, as we possibly write off the career of a player that hasn’t even turned 27 yet.
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