Joakim Noah, who has been out the past 30 games for the Chicago Bulls, is coming back tonight against the Toronto Raptors -- ironically, his last game before his absence was also against the Raptors.
While he was out, the Bulls got nearly 6 points and 7 rebounds per game (29 starts) from Kurt Thomas. Another big man who stepped up with Noah out was Omer Asik; although he didn't do it in long stretches, he provided a lot of energy off the bench in short stints.
Thomas along with fellow big man Brian Scalabrine each have an expiring contract; could that be of value for the Bulls with the trade deadline less than 24 hours away?
Why would teams want Thomas or Scalabrine? Both have expiring contracts, and while Thomas can provide a team with 15-20 solid minutes along with veteran leadership, the same cannot be said for Scalabrine.
Scalabrine will be a bench-warmer no matter where he lands, obviously. But his expiring contract of about $1.3 million can be used as filler or a throw-in in a potential trade.
In a league where teams are always looking for expiring contracts to shed salary, Thomas and Scalabrine can become assets for the Bulls. They aren't the $10+ million that the New York Knicks got from Tracy McGrady's expiring contract last season, but in this day and age, even $1+ million can make a difference in potential trades.
Potential destinations: Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies aren't contending teams -- instead, they're looking to shed salary, and getting assets that can help them in the future.
The Bulls have been rumored to be interested in Anthony Parker, Courtney Lee, and O.J. Mayo, but in order to get either of those players the Bulls will need an expiring contract; Thomas and Scalabrine fit that bill.
Both of them are the only expiring contract on the Bulls, and it's certainly possible that with Noah back, one of the two can be on the move to satisfy a team's desire to shed salary.
Likelihood of a deal involving Thomas: The Bulls would certainly pull any trigger involving Scalabrine, but with the need of size -- especially in the Eastern Conference -- the Bulls would have to think twice before dealing Thomas, as they would only have one other center on the roster besides Noah.
Thomas, 38, still has enough for the tank for a good second half of the season, and he's also been a good leader in the locker room; still, dealing Thomas in order to upgrade at a vital position -- in the Bulls' case, shooting guard -- they might have to give up Thomas.
Thomas isn't the difference between a deal or not, but with bad teams looking to shed salary and try to add a leader in the locker room, a deal involving him is certainly possible.
Houston in particular has been looking for some size, however, they've been in the market for big men like Nene and Asik, two guys who can start for a team for years to come. The same cannot be said for Thomas, but his expiring contract has some value.
The Bulls are likely to make a trade between today and the deadline (Thursday, 2pm CT), and with the way salaries are being traded around this season -- and the past couple seasons -- it wouldn't be a surprise if either Scalabrine or Thomas is dealt as filler.
Tom Thibodeau likes both, but he and the front office know that any type of edge is needed for the playoffs. Upgrading at shooting guard is the top priority right now; Thomas and Scalabrine should not be deal breakers for the Bulls.