It's become an annual summer tradition with Tyrus Thomas: trying to figure out where he fits. And I thought last summer would have been the last instance of these ruminations, the next year meaning either breaking out or staying enigmatic in production and personality. And the latter wouldn't mean a 'bust', as he's always been average in production. But I figured at this time last year that if it wasn't clear by 2009 whether he was a future building block, then it likely never would be.
And that breakout year didn't happen. He made some improvements in his game, namely improved jump shooting and free-throw shooting. Kept his status as being one of the few Bulls who could draw a foul, and stayed their best weak side defender.
But other facets fell off. He had a couple months of consistent minutes, but then was pulled in the playoffs for 4th quarters. His assist percentage plummeted (product of the VDN 'system'?), and most alamingly his rebounding numbers fell for the 3rd straight year. He still struggles more than he should to finish inside. And we still hear reports trickling out of the Bulls camp regarding Tyrus' difficult nature.
So does it mean I've given up? I don't think I'm at that point yet, he showed enough to make me still believe, and the Organization should enough blundering to make me believe it's more their fault than anything when it comes to lack of player development.
But what I think is worth investing, in both time and money, in Tyrus Thomas is hard to reconcile with what the team thinks. Because they're not in a context of building a winning team right now. There's dreams of a 2010 free agent, and Tyrus Thomas sits on that 2010 cap with a massive cap hold of his own as a potential restricted free agent. So if the Bulls do have the chance to sign a max FA (and they still have to move someone else first, if the cap is going down significantly. This is such a risky plan, argh.), they'd have to renounce the rights to Thomas and let him walk for nothing.
Shouldn't the Bulls learn their mistake from the Ben Gordon debacle, and be more proactive by moving Thomas now instead of having him hang in limbo for next summer? Maybe use what value he does have to get some money off the books?
Perhaps, if the deal was right. The potential Boozer deal would've been pretty fantastic, achieving these ends while still being a competitive team. Which are goals that are extremely hard to balance, and then even harder considering they'd still have to stay under the luxury tax for this season.
But what if Thomas, in a potential contract year, after a supposedly great summer, and with a big role on the team, makes a leap this season? I'd rather it be for the Bulls than someone else. If only to increase his trade value. If frontcourt stars are on the block this trading deadline, it'd help immensely if Tyrus can play himself into being a trade package centerpiece.
And that may be the best of what I hope for Tyrus going into this season. Between the Bulls angling for a max FA next summer, and the rocky few years between Tyrus and the Bulls, and seeing how Reinsdorf doesn't seem to pay for those who aren't his favorites, there are too many factors against Tyrus being a Bull long-term for me not to instead hope for other, less ideal if more likely, outcomes.
And it's sad to think how his play on the court may have little impact on that decision. Maybe it's been decided already he's not a keeper (hey, Reinsdorf said it himself they decided last year about Gordon!), or that he couldn't coexist long-term with Noah. But at the very least Tyrus playing well keeps the Bulls competitive, and helps in any deal. That's something.
It's tough that as a fan I can't just root for players to get good and stay, but the Bulls have a complicated (or perhaps just confusing to me) plan going. It could go as well as upgrading from Thomas to Bosh, or as poorly as seeing the Thomas experiment end with nothing but promises of James Johnson being the next big thing. Until his contract is up for an extension too.