Bulls add big man enforcer Kurt Thomas


Jul 23

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The Bulls late Thursday filled out their front court rotation by agreeing to a one year deal with veteran center/forward Kurt Thomas, NBA sources confirmed.

Thomas joins Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in what should be a solid five-man interior rotation.

Thomas agreed to a deal for slightly more than the veterans’ minimum, which means the Bulls have about $3 million remaining to fill out the roster, which now has 11 players.

Thomas is a 15-year veteran who joins his eighth team after last playing for the Bucks. Although he will turn 38 in October, Thomas came up big for the Bucks in the playoffs in replacing starter Andrew Bogut.

Thomas averaged 5.4 points and 7.9 rebounds playing 28.4 minutes per game in the Bucks seven-game near upset of the heavily favored Hawks.  Thomas, known primarily for his post defense, even made one of the big plays of the series in taking an offensive foul on Joe Johnson which helped clinch the Bucks Game 5 win in Atlanta which gave Milwaukee a 3-2 lead.

Thomas has career averages of 8.8 points and seven rebounds, but perhaps the main element of his addition to the Bulls is he gives the team the big man enforcer the Bulls lack.

Thomas has long been known around the NBA as a player others don’t want to engage, and even last season Thomas famously stood up for one of his teammates.

Boston’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis had committed a hard foul on Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings. Thomas hadn’t been playing then, but he remembered. When the teams met a few weeks later, Thomas took down Davis with a hard shot that had Celtics announcer Tommy Heinsohn bellowing “thug” at Thomas.

Thomas is a player known to have the backs of his teammates.

Sometimes it’s led to flagrant fouls and technical fouls and seemingly out of control episodes, but Thomas is known around the NBA as not unlike one time Bull Charles Oakley.

As a rookie in the playoffs against the Bulls in 1996, Thomas got into it against Dennis Rodman, who quickly backed away. Thomas was the starting center for the Knicks from 2002 through 2005, and the New York Times quoted teammate Latrell Sprewell about Thomas: “Kurt’s the guy who seems to be knocking everyone down and hacking a lot. He’s the banger and the bruiser. He’s sort of taken Oakley’s place. I know Oakley used to be the one who would hit guys and bang guys coming down the lane. That seems to be Kurt’s role right now.”

Playing for Pat Riley as a rookie helps a big man develop that way.

Thomas led the NBA in fouls committed two straight seasons, though he also has an offensive game and as a senior at TCU led the nation in scoring and rebounding, only the third players ever to do so. He was the 10th pick in the first round in 1995.

“Basically, I’m a good person out there until you tick me off,” Thomas told the Times. ”If you mess with me, I’ll mess with you. If you want to push and shove and throw elbows, I can do that, too. I’m not Charles Oakley. I’m Kurt Thomas. I believe I can do some of the things he did on the floor. He could hit the 18-foot jumper, and I believe I can fill that role. He was a great rebounder, and I feel I can rebound the ball. When I first got here, the question was: With Charles Oakley being gone, are the Knicks a different type of team? My job is to be physical on the floor. If that means knocking a person coming down the lane, I’ll have to bop them.”

Actually, Thomas is a lot like Brad Miller, who left the Bulls for a substantial offer from the Houston Rockets. Thomas is a good shooter, though not quite the three point range of Miller. Thomas is more adept at the mid range game. He’s about 6-9 and 250, a bit shorter than Miller, and jokingly slow. But he’s a bruiser who plays a physical inside defense and doesn’t take himself too seriously, a regular in jeans and work shirt.

Yes, he’s a lunch pail type of player.

It’s the kind of player the Bulls needed after losing Miller, who doesn’t have quite the tough guy reputation of Thomas.

Although one of the older players in the league, Thomas played major minutes in the playoffs and has played at least 70 games the last two seasons and shot at least 80 percent from the free throw line each of the last two seasons.

His best years were with the Knicks, when he once averaged a double/double and was a double figure scorer for five seasons before moving on to be the defensive guy for the run-and-fun Suns. Thomas has been in 89 playoff games, half of them starts including all seven for the Bucks this past season. He’s the kind of physical, veteran half court presence a team like the Bulls will need if they are in the playoffs.

With the addition of Thomas, it would seem the front court is set with Thomas able to play center, which he has for most of his career, as well as forward. When John Salmons was traded to the Bucks in February, Thomas was one of the possibilities to come to the Bulls before the Bucks decided to send Hakim Warrick fearing they’d need Thomas’ center ability in the playoffs.

With those five, the Bulls now have Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson at guard and Luol Deng, Kyle Korver and James Johnson at small forward, though the Bulls played Johnson at shooting guard in the summer league. Brewer also has played some small forward. So the Bulls likely will concentrate on adding a shooting guard and should be able to do well with slightly more than $3 million remaining.

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