If there was a knock on this past season's Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, it was that he waited too long to play Kurt Thomas in the Eastern Conference finals. Thomas did not play a single minute in Games 1 to 4, though scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds in 18 minutes in an 83-80 Game 5 defeat.
Thomas was the NBA's second-oldest player this past season, 38, but that didn't stop him.
Assuming Shaquille O'Neal is truly retired, Thomas will be the oldest player in the league next season.
Whenever Thibodeau needed his services, Thomas was ready. His best moment this past season came when Joakim Noah missed 30 games due to a thumb injury; Thomas averaged five points and seven and a half rebounds in nearly 29 minutes per game in his absence, and helped lead the Bulls to a 22-8 record without Noah.
He gives you exactly what you want: tough, gritty and smart
basketball. He's a 17-year veteran, and though he doesn't have the
athleticism he once had, his basketball IQ and rugged play is what makes
him a great asset.
Enter: the New York Knicks.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News writes: "Kurt Thomas is the NBA's oldest player and he might just hold the title of slowest and most vertically challenged, too. Yet, he's precisely what the Knicks need.
to a team source, the Knicks intend to make a run at reacquiring Thomas
this summer, or whenever the expected NBA lockout ends. The veteran
power forward is a free agent who spent last season with the Chicago Bulls and has made it clear that he wants to play at least one more season.
"Thomas will likely decide between the Knicks and Bulls, although he remains hopeful that his hometown Dallas Mavericks will reach out to him as well. Thomas attended all three NBA Finals games in Dallas."
If the Knicks want to establish any kind of defensive scheme, which players have lobbied for since the season ended, they will need to get players who can (and are willing to) play defense. Last season was a disaster in the middle for the Knicks. Among the starting center options: Ronnie Turiaf, Jared Jeffries and Shelden Williams. Certainly not ideal, especially when you have a finesse forward in Amar'e Stoudemire.
Although Thomas, the former Knick, will be 39 years old in October, he showed he can maintain tremendous conditioning and assumed the role as the "always ready" veteran on the Bulls.
Omer Asik made strides last season, and if he continues to work hard, should only get better, but this past season, you'd assume the Bulls would be more comfortable with Thomas in crucial spots over the young, inexperienced Asik, who was a liability offensively.
Of course, the Bulls could move Asik in a deal for a two-guard and then re-sign Thomas, though that's unlikely.
You've got to be more comfortable with Thomas heading into next season, too. Among the Bulls' big men, he had the most consistent midrange jumper throughout the season, is a very solid rebounder and plays smart basketball.
But like every player, Thomas -- who averaged four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes per game this past season -- wants to play. He was certainly upset after this past season, when he saw his playing time dip big-time in the playoffs, but he's a professional, so you won't hear it from him.
The Knicks could probably guarantee Thomas a starting spot at center, if not plenty of backup minutes if they find a viable starter. Thomas isn't the fastest guy around, but he's taken good care of his body and plans to play next season.
"I'm working out and staying in shape," Thomas said. "I definitely want to play again.
"Everyone knows how I feel about the Knicks. I
have a lot of friends there. We'll see what happens. It's too early to
say right now, especially since there might be a lockout. But I'm
keeping myself ready because I want to keep playing."Could the Bulls even guarantee Thomas backup center minutes? I'm not quite sure, as the Bulls have Noah at starter and the 25-year-old Asik on the rise. If Asik piled up most of the backup minutes during the 2011 playoffs, the odds are certainly in his favor to assume the backup center position for good next season, especially if Thomas departs.
Would Thomas accept a third-string role with the Bulls when he could get a better situation -- in terms of playing time -- with the Knicks?
Plug Thomas into New York's starting lineup, and it looks pretty darn good: Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields, Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire and Thomas.
Thomas might have played his final game with the Bulls, but it would be great to see him return to the Bulls, which would probably be on the veteran's minimum. Keeping him out of enemy territory, a team that could give the Bulls fits next season, would be nice, too.
We'll see how much he wants to try again with this Bulls team; they got so close this past season, three wins away from the NBA Finals, and should only grow. Will Thomas want to be a part of the process?
Only time will tell, but keep the Knicks in mind as a team Thomas could sign with. Don't rule out the Bulls quite yet, but with two viable options at center, Thomas may see the writing on the wall.