Posted Sep 5 2010 1:00PM - Updated Sep 5 2010 9:00PM
If there ever was a summer to be a free agent, this was it. There were plenty of jobs to go around and teams looking to spend.
Tim Thomas didn't want any part of the craziness. A few informal discussions took place here and there, but Thomas knew what he wanted.
The Mavericks felt the same.
"Loyalty is definitely the best word for it," Thomas told NBA.com in his first extensive interview since re-signing with Dallas on Aug. 18.
Thomas missed most of last season, his first with Dallas. Knee surgery sidelined him initially before leaving the team in late January to deal with something much more serious. Thomas' wife, Tricia, had become ill and Tim requested a leave of absence to care for her and their family.
He never returned. He also wasn't forgotten. Thomas said every one of his Dallas teammates reached out during the trying times, as did players from around the league. Even though he had only been with the Mavericks a few months and played just 18 games, the outpouring of support from all corners of the organization touched him deeply.
"That was all I could ask for," said Thomas, who decided along with Tricia to keep the nature of her illness private.
Thomas kept tabs on the Mavericks from their home in Los Angeles. Watching the first-round exit to San Antonio was especially hard.
"It was about taking care of my wife, but I watched basketball as much as I could and I always kept up with what Dallas was doing," he said. "I reached out to everybody right before the playoffs and wished everybody well.
"Of course I watched the playoff games and thought about situations where I could have helped. It was tough to know that the guys were going to war and I wasn't there to help, but at the same time everybody was reaching out with their prayers for my wife."
When the offseason rolled around, Thomas' competitive juices were flowing again. Tricia had improved to the point where she could care for their two daughters and run the household again. Thomas was ready to give it another go.
"I wanted to come back and help my team, but things happened in the household," he said. "The team allowed me to go and to try to work things out. When things started going downhill, they allowed me to stay home and take care of what's most important -- your family. I really appreciate that from them. I'm happy that everything worked out as far as my wife's health."
Thomas began to work out and talked to his agent, Bob Myers, about his options. Most teams were hesitant to look into the 14-year veteran with seven teams on his résumé, though some were interested given Thomas' track record. The Mavericks were one of those interested teams.
"There were a lot of talks, but nothing got as far as an actual contract," Thomas said. "When my agent talked to Dallas and Dallas said they would love to have me back, it was a no-brainer. I definitely wanted to put myself in a situation where you have a chance to win an NBA championship."
The two sides agreed on the same contract Thomas signed last summer -- a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum ($1.35 million). Whether more money was out there, Thomas wasn't about to chase it. There was unfinished business and the chance to repay a debt in Dallas.
Loyalty won out.
"That's the right word -- loyalty," he said. "Everything I went through, the organization was just great. From being hurt and having surgery to my wife's health, they were just great. From the basketball side of it, they know what I'm capable of doing if I'm healthy and they know also I just want to sacrifice for the team. I just want to win. That's the bottom line."
The Mavericks are just glad to get Thomas back.
"We knew it was tough on Tim and his family last year," owner Mark Cuban said. "Our policy is that family always comes first. So we certainly were trying to offer any help we could and to stay on top of the situation. With the new season getting ready to get started, we are excited to have Tim back. His size and ability to stretch the court will be a big help to us."
Thomas isn't a difference-maker, but the Mavericks are counting on the 6-foot-10 forward to shore up some shortcomings that arose last season. He brings much-needed depth behind Dirk Nowitzki, giving Dallas length and the ability to space the floor with his 3-point range.
And while the absence was unintended, it did his body some good. Thomas, 33, has only played close to a full season once in the last five years.
"I've had a long time off, so I have fresh legs, but then again it's been 14 years, so time will tell," he said. "I feel great right now. I'm ready to go and I want to get back into the whole flow of practicing and playing and being able to compete. I want to be around the guys and enjoy the game."
When it came down to deciding where, Thomas couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
"I just felt loyal to Dallas for what they did last year letting me take care of my family," he said. "I just want to give it another shot. I feel I can help. I keep going back to that word -- loyalty."
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