Lance Thomas Returns to the Court for Brooklyn Nets

On the road to the NBA restart, the Brooklyn Nets got a little bit closer to whole on Saturday afternoon. Forward Lance Thomas came out of quarantine for his first workout, and the team announced the signing of guard/forward Justin Anderson as a Substitute Player, filling the team’s final available roster spot.

Anderson spent time with Brooklyn earlier this season on a 10-day contract, then finished the year in the G League with the Long Island Nets, averaging 20.5 points and 6.6 assists in 16 games and earning All-NBA G League Third Team honors. The fifth-year pro was a college teammate of Brooklyn’s Joe Harris at the University of Virginia.

“Justin is an athletic, active presence on both ends of the floor,” said Harris. “He adds a lot of value obviously with his size, his length, his defensive ability. I think offensively he's extremely talented as well. He provides another talented player that's able to help us on both ends of the floor. His sort of MO from the moment he's gotten to the NBA is just being a physical presence that is able to make a difference on the defensive end but then offensively just crashing the boards, crashing the glass, little intangible stuff, hustle type plays, he adds all of that and just a great guy to have around, great guy to have in the locker room.”

While Thomas was happy to get out of his six-day quarantine, the Nets eased him back into things with some individual drills rather than putting him right into team scrimmages.

“Just had an individual with one of the coaches to feel the basketball again and get some shots up,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn, “see what it feels like to be in the gym and welcome him to the group. An added addition, great to have him, great human being and he'll definitely help us.”

Thomas had his own Brooklyn stint earlier this season with the Nets during training camp, but was waived prior to the season opener. Born in Brooklyn, he starred at St. Benedict’s in Newark before going on to Duke and winning a national championship in 2010. Undrafted that year, he spent a season in the G League before building a nine-year NBA career primarily with New Orleans and New York, with a brief stint in Oklahoma City in between.

“I’m definitely familiar with the guys,” said Thomas. “I did preseason with the team, and I’ve been playing against most of these guys for most of my career, so I’m very familiar with their games. Me personally, I’m just going to be tenacious. I’m going to make open shots, do whatever the team needs me to do. Probably guard the other team’s best player, do the things that got me into the league and do the things I enjoy doing.”

These Nets do have a dramatically different look than the team Thomas spent training camp with. Jacque Vaughn has replaced Kenny Atkinson as head coach, and the absences that opened the door for Thomas have led to several other new additions. From the 15 players on Brooklyn’s opening-night roster that Thomas was in training camp with, eight will not be playing in Orlando.

So while Thomas finds some aspects like Brooklyn’s up-tempo style familiar, he’s ready for a little learning curve.

“We’re pros. We’ve got to learn things on the fly regardless,” said Thomas. “There’s a few things I’m probably going to have to learn on the fly, but there is an advantage to knowing the personnel, having experience playing against these guys and playing with them through training camp, that’s something that I think will come back fairly easy. A lot of these guys know my game as well, so we’re not trying to figure each other out. It comes with the territory. If you’re going to be a professional athlete, you’ve got to be ready to be thrown into any situation and figure it out.”

While Thomas didn’t get an opportunity in the league after being let go by the Nets after training camp, he stayed sharp with regular workouts at the National Basketball Players Association gym with his trainer. But that stopped in March as the growing COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down New York City, and Thomas was homebound for several months.

“Staying in shape is a lifestyle for me, so I was always going to stay in shape regardless if the NBA was going to resume or not,” said Thomas. “Finding gym time was more difficult throughout the quarantine, especially since I live in New York City. I didn’t leave the house at all pretty much until June. Left my house maybe three or four times from March to June. I was able to find some gym time and do things in the house to stay in shape. Stayed ready for the opportunity and by God’s good grace it happened for me.”