Tim Thomas is an enigma. He's an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, with a riddle on top. Only, it turns out, he isn't an enigma at all.
I must admit, until the 2006 playoffs I had not watched a lot of Tim Thomas. He was always in the Eastern Conference, and other than the 2001 playoffs when the Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, I probably never saw him play an entire game. But in those 2001 playoffs, and then especially last year with the Suns, the guy looked like money.
Which is probably the problem. The bucks that the Bucks threw at him back in 2000 (6 years/$60M) were just stupid. The guy was the FOURTH leading scorer on the team. FOURTH. The Bucks had Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell all averaging 18+, and they gave a max contract to Tim Thomas, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 26 minutes per that year. Who gives a max contract to their FOURTH best player?
Call it the Juwan Howard syndrome. When a good player signs a ridiculous contract, the player becomes the villain. The guy can be the EXACT SAME PLAYER he was before he signed the big deal, but because he's now making the massive money, suddenly he's an underacheiver. And by the way, this is not the player's fault, it's management's fault. What's the player supposed to do? Turn down the contract?
When Tim Thomas has gotten minutes, his production has been solid and surprisingly consistent, throughout his career.
Sure, he's had a few famous trips to doghouses. After averaging 11 points in 23 minutes per game as a 20-year-old Sixers rookie, he found himself on Larry Brown's bad side and was reduced to 11 minutes per game the following season before being shipped to Milwaukee for Ty Hill.
After several solid seasons in beer town, he was shipped to New York as part of Milwaukee's housecleaning (this is the same team that traded Ray Allen for the fossilized remains of Gary Payton). Interesting side note: this was the second time that Thomas was traded for Keith Van Horn, the answer to somebody's trivia question. It is also worth noting that during the most stable stretch of his career, Thomas' point guard was one Sam Cassell.
Tim Thomas arrived in New York with the Knicks in full ice berg mode - Isiah took the GM job in December 2003, traded for Marbury and Hardaway January 5, hired Lenny Wilkens on January 14, and traded for TT on February 15. These and the subsequent deals Isiah was to make, explain the following three things:
- why the Suns are the best team in the West,
- why the Knicks are the worst team in the world,
- why every GM in basketball has hope they can pull off a trade with the Knicks, no matter how damaged the merchandise (don't be surprised to see Stephen Jackson in NYC before the season's over).
When TT was traded from the Knicks to the Bulls, Scott Skiles let it be known from day one that the trade was for the picks and the young guys, and that TT didn't fit his plans in Chicago. Was it his fault that his coach wouldn't play him, while he was making $13M?
Having said all that, I am NOT pleased with the fact that Thomas practiced exactly ZERO days during the Clippers camp in Santa Barbara. Between back spasms brought on by the 14 hour flight back from Russia, and gum surgery, he missed every single practice. For a guy with a reputation as a lazy player, who is learning a new system, this is not reassuring. And how about that gum surgery? Last season ends June 3, the new season starts November 1, and you have GUM SURGERY on October 13? You couldn't schedule that for August?
When Tim Thomas has been in a good situation, he has performed. His first season in Philly, for four season in Milwaukee, for 26 games (and 20 playoff games) in Phoenix, even the season plus he was a Knick, his numbers have been remarkably consistent. He'll score one point for every 2.2 minutes he's on the floor. Play him 24 minutes, he'll score 11 points - play him 31, he'll score 14. Look it up - it's actually pretty eerie.
Is he worth 4 years and $24M to the Clippers? Considering the dimensions that he fills for this team (size, versatility to play multiple positions, and especially outside shooting), there's no question that he's worth it. As long as he stays out of Dunleavy's doghouse, he'll average double figures, and everyone will be happy.