Roster overflow aside, Thomas ready to make a run at a spot on Pistons depth chart
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Adonis Thomas was one of two constants at the Pistons practice facility through the spring and early summer months. What happened to the other served as a reminder to him of the ever-present uncertainty inherent for players trying to get their foot in the NBA’s imposing front door.
Thomas and Quincy Miller were workout partners as the Pistons prepared for the draft and free agency through May and June. They expected to be cornerstones of the Summer League roster they knew would feature the team’s first- and second-round draft choices.
But two things happened in the five days between the Pistons’ June 29 arrival in Orlando and their July 4 first Summer League game. Miller broke his nose and orbital bone and the Pistons traded a 2020 second-round pick to Phoenix for three players, including presumptive starting small forward Marcus Morris.
The Miller injury was followed a few weeks later by his trade to Brooklyn in a move that solved problems for both teams. Miller’s non-guaranteed contract allowed the Nets to slip under the luxury tax threshold by dumping Steve Blake’s contract on the Pistons, and the Pistons were delighted to add Blake as insurance against the uncertainty of Brandon Jennings’ availability on the depth chart at point guard behind Reggie Jackson.
As for Thomas, there was never a guarantee he’d have a 2015-16 roster spot after a breakout season for the D-League’s Grand Rapids Drive, but the challenge became more substantial with the 3-for-0 trade that brought the roster to 17 guaranteed contracts before you get to Thomas.
“I know you’re looking at the roster – 17 guaranteed guys – and you’re the only partial-guarantee guy,” Stan Van Gundy told Thomas, he said, on the day he officially signed his contract after Summer League. “Anything can change. We’re not really focused on who’s on the roster right now. Trades could be made.”
“It’s still a long time (until rosters must be set at the end of October). Free agents are still getting signed,” Thomas said. “Guys are still getting cut. There’s a lot that could happen. For me, it’s just continue to put in work and whatever happens, happens.”
It’s not just a numbers game for Thomas, but a roster crunch at his position. Thomas can play either wing spot, but at shooting guard the locks are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks with second-rounder Darrun Hilliard a good bet. And at small forward, Morris and lottery pick Stanley Johnson are ahead of him.
Even if the Pistons waive veteran Danny Granger, whose career was derailed by a debilitating knee injury in the 2011-12 season, that would still mean no more than two spots for veteran Cartier Martin, newcomer Reggie Bullock – another product of the Phoenix trade and a 2013 first-rounder – and Thomas.
“I think I bring more to the table, more versatility, as far as being able to do more things on offense and on defense,” Thomas said. “I think I shoot the ball as good as the rest of those guys, but I think I’m more athletic and also I think I can be way more defensive-minded than those guys. At the end of the day, that’s not my decision.”
Thomas got brief tastes of the NBA in the 2013-14 season, signing 10-day contracts with both Philadelphia and Orlando after leaving Memphis following his sophomore season. He’s better prepared for a real run at the NBA today, though, not only for rounding out his game in the D-League but also for the lifestyle changes he’s made. Thomas finished last season playing at around 250 pounds for Grand Rapids, but he’s eating healthier and it shows. Thomas, a naturally thick athlete, is a svelte 235 now and hopes to lean up even more as camp nears.
“Now I feel great,” he said. “I know this is a great size for me, being able to be a bigger guard on the wing and being able to still move, get up and down the court. It’s going to be a great size for me.”
The marching orders Van Gundy gave Thomas heading into Summer League – to be as aggressive as possible on offense and get into people defensively – is the attitude he’ll take into training camp. He knows he’s fighting for a roster spot, not for a major role in the rotation, and is mindful of what a coach looks for in such players.
“Stan’s a guy who wants to really focus in on his veteran guys and the guys that are going to play a lot more starting the season,” he said. “Last year they didn’t get off to a good start, so they definitely want to make that known this season. I just want to come in and contribute in any way I can – just being ready, being able to knock down shots when I’m open, to always play good defense and going hard. Anything I do, they’ll probably be able to spot it out and notice that I’m working hard and trying to make this team.”