Word to the wise: Don't be doubting this Thomas

Part I: NBA mainstay surprising chain of fools

By Truman Reed
04/19/10

Kurt Thomas
Hammond agreed that Thomas' wisdom and leadership could be valuable to the young Bucks squad, but made it clear that his value extended well beyond those qualities. Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE

When the time arrives that Kurt Thomas decides his National Basketball Association playing days are over, he ought to sit down and write a letter - a chain letter.

He should makes sure it reaches all of the cynics, pundits and self-proclaimed know-it-alls who ever doubted, discounted or dismissed him, along with those who wrote him off in the twilight years of his career.

We'll call them the chain of fools. Some of them even have Milwaukee area zip codes.

Thomas, who is playing in his 10th NBA Playoffs to culminate his 15th season in the league, came to the Bucks from the San Antonio Spurs in a June 23, 2009 three-way trade that sent Bruce Bowen and Amir Johnson to Milwaukee, Richard Jefferson to San Antonio and Fabricio Oberto to Detroit.

After the deal went down, observers locally and nationally predicted that Thomas would be released or moved again before he ever played a game for the Bucks.

When training camp wrapped up, though, Thomas was still on Milwaukee's roster.

As the trading deadline approached and arrived in mid-February, the pundits were convinced that Thomas' days as a Buck were finished. News of one deal reportedly involving Thomas was even circulated nationally.

And now, lo and behold, Milwaukee is participating in the NBA Playoffs for the first time in four seasons. And when the Bucks made their playoff return April 17 in Atlanta, Kurt Thomas was their starting center.

Who woulda thunk it? Certainly none of those folks who didn't believe Thomas would ever play for the Bucks, or those who had him packing his bags at the trading deadline.

Maybe some of them should have listened to Bucks General Manager John Hammond last summer after he brought Thomas aboard and had a chance to talk to the consummate pro about the prospect of Milwaukee becoming his seventh NBA team.

Hammond shared some of his insights on the matter in August when he spoke about the three-way deal he made June 23.

"Kurt Thomas is the one piece that's still with us," Hammond said. "Kurt's a very valuable asset. We know that now, after having him on our roster for the past couple of months, that he has a lot of value in this league. People know what he can still bring to the table. Scott (Skiles) had a conversation with (San Antonio Spurs head coach) Gregg Popovich, and he couldn't say enough good things about Kurt.

"I think he can help us. I think he played maybe 71 games or more for San Antonio last year, plus playoff games. People will say that a guy his age will bring leadership skills, and he does that. But he brings more than that. He's got a skill set that can help you. He knows how to defend in this league. He can still shoot the ball. He's a great free-throw shooter. You can put him in to finish a game and he'll be in the right place at the right time. You can play him at the `4' or the `5.' So we're happy to have him."

Hammond never looked at Thomas as simply a "throw-in" or a "locker-room guy" when he swung the trade that brought him to Milwaukee, despite the fact that others did.

Hammond agreed that Thomas' wisdom and leadership could be valuable to the young Bucks squad, but made it clear that his value extended well beyond those qualities.

"Having leadership skills on the roster is very important, and that's one thing we talked about with him," Hammond said. "That's what Kurt Thomas has brought to this league for the last couple of years. I don't think you can ever have too many people like that.

"But this isn't a guy that you just bring in to have on your roster, have in your locker room, have on your bench, but he really can't produce anymore. There's guys like that in the league, but he isn't that. You can put him on the floor, he can produce, and he can help you win games."

Hammond had a clear vision back before training camp even began what Thomas could bring to the Bucks.

"I think he'll be great for a guy like Andrew Bogut," Hammond said. "He's been there. He knows how it's done. And he's not afraid to speak up."

Most importantly, Thomas expressed not only a willingness, but an eagerness to do whatever he could to help steer the Bucks in a winning direction.

"He's excited about the opportunity to be here," Hammond said. "We appreciate that. A guy who's at the point that he's at in his career, joining a young team that's going through a building process - and we think we can be a competitive team this year -- for a guy like that to come in and say, `I want to be a part of this. I'll do whatever it takes,' we really appreciate that. It tells you a lot about the man."

From the moment Thomas arrived in Milwaukee, he has been true to his words. He came aboard as a pro's pro and has consistently fit that job description each and every day.

"I was surprised to hear about the trade, but I've been in the NBA for a long time," Thomas said as he prepared to begin his first Bucks preseason camp. "You've just got to be prepared to do your job."

He talked about moving from a team that was deemed a championship contender to one that many projected to finish at the rock bottom of the NBA.

"Well, when I look at this team, I see a team that was just a few wins away from making the playoffs last year, and that team was faced with a lot of injuries," Thomas said. "If the guys come in with the same attitude this year and get a little lucky here and there, there's no telling what can happen."

He was asked what role he figured he would fill here.

"Well, it's about the same as it's been for 14 years: Just come in, be a solid rebounder and defensive player who can knock down the open shot and do whatever else is asked of me," he replied. "I'm a team player and I'm going to go out and do my job."

When Thomas was informed of how impressed Hammond was with his acceptance of the trade and his eagerness to join the Bucks, he smiled and said, "Well, I've been very fortunate throughout my career. I've had some great role models, starting with my parents.

"I can't pick the role that I'm going to play; I'm just going to go out and play. Whatever opportunity comes forward, I'm just going to try and make the best of it."

Thomas has experienced a lot during his 15th NBA seasons, but even he couldn't have anticipated where he would be when April arrived.

He had averaged less than 14 minutes per game during the months of December, January, February and March.

His minutes got a bump when he became Andrew Bogut's primary backup at center and the Bucks went 17-5 spanning mid-February to the end of March, becoming the hottest team in the NBA.

And then when Bogut crashed to the court, sustaining a dislocated elbow, a sprained wrist and a broken hand following an April 3 dunk against the Phoenix Suns, his season was over. And Thomas' season took a dramatic twist.

He would become Milwaukee's starting center. He would average 27.4 minutes during the Bucks' last six regular-season games.

And he was ready.

Thomas averaged 5.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in the Bucks last eight April regular-season games, helping them win five of them (four of six without Bogut). He had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds in one contest and cleared a season-high 14 boards in another.

Thomas made it clear that he didn't intend to fill Bogut's shoes.

"I'm feeling great out on the floor," he said. "I'm enjoying the opportunity to get more minutes.

"But I'm not `Bogues.' I've just got to be Kurt."

And Thomas' coach made it clear that he is grateful to have Kurt.

"Kurt has been good," Scott Skiles said. "With `Bogues' out, we obviously have to rely on Kurt more. He's played in over 80 playoff games. He's played in the NBA Finals. He's got a lot of experience in the type of games we're in right now.

"We've been appreciative of his effort all year. We're glad he's here, for sure."

Shame on you, chain of fools.

(Visit Bucks.com again soon for Part II of "Word to the Wise: Don't Be Doubting This Thomas.")