As the Bulls wait for Rip Hamilton to clear waivers, they lost a valuable piece from a season ago. Veteran center Kurt Thomas has signed a two-year contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, the team announced on Sunday.
"We're excited to be adding the experience, toughness and veteran leadership that Kurt will provide for our team," Blazers acting general manager Chad Buchanan said in a statement. "We've long respected Kurt and expect him to make a strong contribution to our organization."
Similar to his role in Chicago, the 39-year-old Thomas, the league's oldest player, is expected to give the Blazers a veteran enforcer who can knock down the midrange jumper, play big minutes if he's asked to, likely backup fellow veteran center Marcus Camby and provide an insurance policy for the often-injured Greg Oden, who recently suffered another setback.
With Bulls starting center Joakim Noah having missed large chunks of the past two seasons and Omer Asik entering his sophomore camapgin, coach Tom Thibodeau's team will miss Thomas, who was a calming presence for teammates to rely on last season. The Bulls' front-court depth played a major role in the team winning a league-high 62 games last season.
Thomas averaged almost four points and six rebounds for the Bulls in 52 regular-season contests.
Several contenders around the league, including the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks, had reportedly shown interest in Thomas. Last week, his agent, Jerry Hicks, told the New York Post last week that the 6-foot-9 center's preference is to re-sign with the Bulls.
Because both Asik and Taj Gibson will be due for contract extensions next summer, the Bulls likely did not want to match the Blazers' two-year offer for Thomas, who will be 41 by the end of the deal.
The Bulls are confident that Asik will thrive as Noah's backup, but general manager Gar Forman will likely look to acquire a big man before the 2011-12 season starts on Christmas Day. The team currently has just two centers. Etan Thomas, Erick Dampier and Kyrylo Fesenko are among the cheap veterans available on the free-agent market.