Chicago Bulls: Tyrus Thomas
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- As we wait for the end of Monday afternoon's practice, here are a few leftovers from Saturday night's Bulls win over the Bobcats.
Deng happy for Duke: Luol Deng took a little bit of a ribbing from his teammates on Saturday night, but he's used to it. As a Duke alum, he knows that most people get pretty jealous come NCAA Tournament time. Saturday was no different. His teammate Chris Richard was trying to tell him that the Blue Devils were losing late to West Virginia, but he wasn't buying it. Deng knew better. He knew his team was on the way to another Final Four victory, and he was happy for them. "Duke is going to win it," he said with a smile. "Nah, Butler's a good team, but I think Duke's got a really good team. They play really together."
Don't expect to see Deng in Indianapolis, though. "I'm going to watch it on TV, so I can rewind and stuff like that."
Bulls hit boards: The stat of the night on Saturday was easy: Bulls 56 rebounds; Bobcats 34. The Bulls, specifically Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (who combined for 31 boards) dominated Charlotte on the glass. So, what was the difference? "I think we fought hard," Noah said. "I think Taj has really improved his offensive rebounding game. I'd like to think he watched me a little bit, but you have to ask him. Nah, Taj has been doing great with the rebounding. We're playing decent, we just got to keep playing hard. And hopefully make this playoff thing."
As for what the Bobcats thought of thought of their rebounding problems on the night. "It was just a disaster," Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas said. "That's all I can say."
Noah dunks on Thomas: Noah made one of the biggest plays of the night when he dunked it on top of his old teammate Thomas. The dunk gave his teammates an emotional boost in the second half and helped get them back on track. Noah didn't seem to have a problem dunking on his old buddy. "Was it weird?" he said, repeating my question. "Nah, it felt great. A couple plays before that he had blocked my shot. I kind of felt his presence out there a little bit. He kind of wanted me to know, don't come in there with that weak hook. I'm happy I got that dunk. He almost blocked it, too."
Thomas returns: Saturday marked the first game that Thomas had played in Chicago since being traded in February, and it was clear that he wanted to play well. He ended up with 10 points and three rebounds on the night, and it was also evident that some of his teammates still wished he was on the Bulls. Noah spoke highly of Thomas after the game. So did Gibson. "It was real fun," the rookie said. "He congratulated me after the game. Just an all around great guy. It sucks he's not with us. But, that's the way this league falls. It was a tough game. It was fun [Saturday] night."
The Chicago Bulls pre-game introductions were going on right in front of him, the same ones that he had been a part of so many times before, but for the first time in his career he watched them from the other end of the floor. The Charlotte Bobcats' forward stood underneath his new team's basket and just held onto the net. After spending four years in Chicago there is no doubt the experience had to be strange for him.
That was the name of a certain 6-foot-9 forward out of USC: Taj Gibson.
The same Gibson who essentially took over Thomas' starting job after the Thomas broke his forearm earlier this season. The same Gibson who put together yet another double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds, his 17th of the season) during the Bulls' 96-88 victory over Thomas' Bobcats on Saturday night.
Thomas never seemed to want to leave Chicago. It always seemed as if he thought he was better than he was given credit for, especially under Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.
But if we learned anything on Saturday night, it was the same thing that most people around Chicago had already started to figure out before Thomas left town.
While Thomas may have more all-around talent, potential and upside, Gibson produces one thing that Thomas never consistently could: results.
That's why it becomes clearer as the games roll along this season that the Bulls made the right decision to trade away Thomas. Gibson is a better fit for the present and the future than Thomas would have been.
When I asked Del Negro where the Bulls would be this season without Gibson his response said it all.
"I don't even want to think about it," he said.
In so many ways, Gibson is the player that the Bulls always wanted Thomas to be.
"He's incredibly coachable," Del Negro said. "He comes to work every day, plays hard. He makes mistakes like everybody, but he plays so hard. If he has a fault it's that he helps too much defensively, which is a very, very rare thing. Especially for a rookie."
Coachable was not always a word you heard about Thomas' game, especially when it came to his rocky relationship with Del Negro. It's clear that Gibson has not only made an impact on the coaching staff but on his teammates as well.
"He's always been someone who will always listen," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He just works really hard. It's not even just his rebounding. I think his positioning is really good. I think he's relentless. He doesn't give up just because somebody's in front of him. He always keeps trying to go after that basketball. I think even offensively, he's really getting better. He's getting a lot of playing time, so he's really making the best of his opportunity."
He did so again on Saturday by outplaying Thomas and once again helping the Bulls scratch out a much-needed victory. Even Gibson conceded that it felt like the old days in practice when he and Thomas used to battle it out at the Berto Center.
"Yeah," Gibson said with a smile. "It felt just like it. [Thomas] made a couple tough shots tonight. He played pretty well. But we just had to get this one. Guys just fought hard and understood attention to detail ... Everybody just stepped up late."
It's Gibson who has stepped up as much as anyone though, lately. This was his third straight double-double and sixth in the past seven games.
Where did the late-season push and the continuous attention to detail come from?
Del Negro points to that fact that Gibson played for four years at USC and posses a high basketball IQ.
"Ever since day one when he got here, he works every day. Whether it's in the weight room, whether it's on the court," Del Negro said. "Pregame, halftime, he's ready to go. And he's such a great kid. It's easy to root for a kid like that. You want him to do well, and he's been a huge factor for us, no question, with everything we've battled throughout the year."
Even Gibson concedes how much he has improved over the beginning of the season to now.
"I think I've improved a lot," he said. "It just came from working at it in the gym. Understanding detail and just playing hard. Never giving up. Every time the ball goes up, I'm going for a rebound. Listening to coaches. And just working on my game. Just building up encouragement and just playing hard."
Thomas still has a chance to become a solid player in the NBA, but it's Gibson who appears to have the brighter future. That was apparent once again on Saturday night and that's probably what made it even harder for Thomas to watch.
Deng finished with 14 points and played almost 28 minutes.
Deng was surprised by the high minute total.
"I told Coach ... he told me just let him know throughout the game how I was feeling. If it's getting tight or anything. But, the longer I was out there, I actually felt better," Deng said.
Deng seemed a little hesitant to say for sure whether or night he will play Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"We'll see," he said. "I really don't know how it's going to respond. The other day from practice it had tightened up a little bit, so, I'm sure it will be a little bit tight. But, it's feeling good right now."
More injuries: The Bulls just can't escape the injury bug which has bitten them all season. Bulls point guard Derrick Rose had a couple more hard falls. Same goes for Taj Gibson. Kirk Hinrich played through some pain after spraining his ankle on Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns. Joakim Noah and James Johnson are still battling foot injuries as well. Aside from Deng [who still may play] everybody else is expected to play on Saturday. "I'm feeling good," Rose said. "I know [Saturday] I'm going to be kind of sore. But I'll come in and get treatment early. Get some rest, first of all. And get ready for [Saturday]."
Tyrus returns: For the first time since he was traded away, Tyrus Thomaswill be back in Chicago on Saturday night as a member of te Bobcats. It's a matchup that some Bulls are definitely looking forward to. "I'm looking forward to seeing him," Gibson said. "Nobody really wanted him to leave the team, but I'm just looking forward to seeing him. I know he's doing well. I'm just worried about our end, just trying to get another win."
Noah and Rose connect: Noah doesn't look like a point guard, but he played one in Washington, D.C. on Friday night. Midway through the fourth quarter, he took the ball down the floor and passed it to Rose for an alley-oop that is sure to make the SportsCenter Top 10. So what was going through Rose's mind at the time? "No bounce pass," he said with a laugh. "At least throw it up so I can attempt to get it. But, he threw a good pass. I was surprised. That was a nice pass."
Did Rose think Noah had that kind of point guard prowess?
"Yeah," he said. "Jo was short when he was growing up, so he learned how to dribble. He knows how to dribble a little bit. Passing, I didn't know he was like that. But he threw a good pass."
Rose a fan of Livingston's: After missing several seasons because of various injuries, former Illinois high school star Shaun Livingston is back with the Wizards, and Rose is one of many people that is glad that he has returned. "Shaun, he's a good player. One of the players I looked up to in Illinois," Rose said. "He won Mr. Basketball, I think, two years in a row. Won state two years in a row. First player ever to do that. He's like a legend in Illinois. For me to be playing against him, he's a veteran player, means a lot."
"We know there's no certainty in [free agency]," Paxson said on ESPN 1000 on Monday during halftime of the Bulls' game against the Washington Wizards. "There are a lot of teams with cap space, but our view is we have an All-Star player in Derrick Rose; we have an up-and-coming outstanding center in Joakim Noah; a dependable, very good small forward -- definitely a top-10 small forward in the league -- in Luol Deng, and we have Taj [Gibson], who's been terrific."
1. His foot is feeling a lot better.
How did it start feeling better so soon? Let's let him explain some of the reasons: "I got new orthodics in my shoes. I went to go see [Bulls team physician] Dr. Cole a few times in the city. [I've] just [been] doing as many treatments [as I can]. I'm actually drinking this drink ... my friend went to the gym the other day and somebody at the gym said drink this it's good for feet. So, I drank it."
Did it work?
"Hopefully," he said. We'll see. I drank it yesterday so ..."
What was it?
"I don't know," he said with a smile. "Some anti- ... I don't know. Apparently, it's some fruit drink that's good for your feet. So, whatever helps."
2. Noah misses traded teammate Tyrus Thomas.
The Bulls center had some high praise for his former teammate and fellow big man.
"I think that Tyrus is misunderstood a lot," Noah said. "He's a very emotional player. He definitely what through a lot in his time here. But he's somebody who has probably the most potential I've ever been around. He's great. He actually left me a couple pairs of shoes on top of my locker. We were really close and I really hope that he's going to do very well over there. It's good for him and I think he'll do great over there in Charlotte."
Nick Friedell: How would you sum up what you guys did today?
NF: What do you know about Hakim Warrick, Acie Law and Flip Murray?:
VDN: Warrick and Murray -- they've played and contributed on teams and they've been around and [I'm] much more familiar with them. Alexander and Law are young players just getting their feet wet in the league. Warrick and Murray, I expect to get them underway here and get them in the rotation as soon as possible and see how it comes together and get them comfortable defensively with terminology and things we expect. Same thing offensively. Play the right way, share the basketball. Both of them have been quality pros and are still, especially Hakim, is still very young and has room for improvement and we want to help him in as many areas as we can. Same thing with Flip. He's a shooter; he's a scorer. He can make shots. With Derrick [Rose's] ability to open the court up, hopefully he'll knock some big shots down for us like he's done with other teams.
NF: To someone who says the organization has given up on this year, you would say what?
VDN: That's false. That would never happen. It's not what myself, the staff, the organization and what the fans expect. The Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises ... Giving up or anything is not even mentioned. I expect us to compete at a very high level. I expect us to win games. I expect us to develop our young players like we are and continue to improve in certain areas and get these [new] guys acclimated and fight as hard as we can to find a way to continually get better and give us an opportunity to make the playoffs again.
We've been playing a little bit better on the road as of late. We have to continually do that and also step our game up a little bit at home. But the fans are tremendous. They've been very supportive. Now it's the players and staff and my responsibility to go out there and represent the fans the right way. You do that by giving it all you have, preparing the right way and finding ways to win games. It's a very simple formula but it's hard to accomplish. There's high expectations in Chicago, but people should feel good about the core we kept together, the nucleus we kept together and the ability to advance and get more flexibility in a very important summer as we continually try to improve the team moving forward.
NF: Did you get a chance to talk to Tyrus Thomas before the deal went down?
VDN: No, I haven't had a chance to talk to Tyrus. He was busy with some things. I left some messages for him. I haven't got up with him yet, but I will. The same with John. I talked to John [Wednesday] night. It's never an easy situation. They're good people. They've been very helpful, obviously, in the way they represented the Bulls. You never want to lose good players, but it's a business and it's part of it. And hopefully things work out for them in a positive way.
NF: Do you think Tyrus will ever be able to figure it out?
VDN: The thing with Tyrus is he's very young. He's 24 years old. He's been in the league a while, but he's still young. And he's got to find his way. And long as he finds ways to work and continues to be coachable and continue to work in certain areas and gets better and puts in the time -- he has such great athletic ability. And has the ability to change the complexion on games with his athletic ability.
As he has different coaches or learns different things and grows as a player and as a person, he's a game-changing type of player at times. Hopefully, that consistency will come out as he finds his game a little bit more.
NF: As a coach, how difficult is it to balance trying to win games now while also knowing that the organization is trying to free up cap space for the future?
VDN: It's difficult. It is difficult. But like I've always said, if this was easy, anybody could do it. It's a challenge and I enjoy the challenge, but I'm pleased we kept our nucleus of guys together. And we added a couple guys that have been players in the league. We lost a couple very good players and we added some. We just have to see how it all comes together. There's no easy answers to it. Let's just see how these guys fit in and how they contribute and how it all mixes together and put ourselves in an opportunity on a consistent basis to win basketball games. That's difficult when it happens in the middle of the season, and now you have to try to incorporate some new pieces, but we've done it before. And hopefully this time it will go as smooth as it did last.
NF: Gar Forman came out on Thursday and said, "Vinny's our coach. It's not a story." But, do you wish the organization would come out and say, "Vinny's our coach for the future."? Do you wish they would handle situation some other way?
VDN: All that stuff is out of my control. I don't spend a lot of time with it like I didn't before when it was a much bigger story. I try to prepare and handle the team in a first-class manner [and] help develop the young players [and] find ways to improve individually and as a team. I think my staff has done a phenomenal job with everything that's been thrown at us the last couple of years. And we continue to improve. I can't control what other people do or say. I can just control my attitude and my approach and try to set a good example for a young team and handle the adversity that's thrown at you as a coach and as a team throughout the year in the best possible way and move forward.
I can't worry about what people are saying or what they're not saying or how they're saying it or what's out there. I go about my business and control what I can.
NF: What's a legitimate goal for the end of this year in your eyes?
VDN: Just find a way to continually improve. Find a way to continue to develop these young guys like I always talk about. Continually find ways to improve on the road. I think that's a very, very key component for this young team to build confidence on the road. Road wins are very hard to come by. Hopefully, we'll continue to play well on the road. At home we have a little bit of a different swagger to us, whether it's because we're young or whatever. The fans have great support there and high expectations.
I think we need to set goals in terms of improving. I don't look at wins and losses and how many wins we need or whatever. I expect us to be in contention for a playoff berth. What seed we are I couldn't tell you right now. Everyone's bunched up there. If we play the right way and stay together as a team and incorporate these new players I feel we have an excellent opportunity to go back to the playoffs and then move forward throughout the summer.
NF: Are you confident that with the cap space the team has now, that you guys can convince one of these big-name free agents to come here this summer?
VDN: That will all take care of itself. The first most important thing is getting the space to go and have a game plan together to attract one of the elite players -- whether you get one or not. No one know what's going to happen. That's all getting figured out and everyone will guess and have their opinions, but certain teams have put themselves in a certain position to at least be able to financially afford those type of players. And we're one of them.
So when you have the history of Chicago, the incredible city, the fans, the success of the organization and a great young nucleus of talent, it's got to be a very attractive city for any player. So there's a lot of positives there. All those things will take care of themselves. Everything will be done first-class and professionally to accommodate that this summer, but my focus is not this summer right now. My focus is preparing for the next game and finding ways to help the team get better throughout this season as we move.
Thomas told reporters after the game that it felt good to get back on the court, adding, “I’m always ready to play.”
The embattled Bulls forward, who has been the subject of many trade rumors this season, came off the bench and played 28 minutes -- the most playing time he’s seen since Jan. 21, when he played 36 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Asked about his extended playing time, Thomas was characteristically curt in his answer to reporters.
“The more you’re out there, the more you can do,” Thomas said.
Thomas hit four of his five shots for nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and notched a block and a steal.
Thomas told the Chicago Tribune before the game that he had "no regrets" about the incident that led to his one-game suspension.
The Bulls coach didn't come right out and say that after Monday afternoon's practice, but he might as well have. It's been clear for a while that Thomas has fallen out of favor with the second-year coach and it is obvious that Thomas' frustrations are finally boiling over. As the Tribune first reported, Thomas went on a profanity-laced tirade aimed at Del Negro after Friday's game in Atlanta, which led to his team-imposed one-game suspension on Saturday night.
Monday's practice was the first time Thomas was back on the floor with his teammates since the incident, but it was clear nothing had really changed. "What happened, happened," Del Negro said. "It's over with. Hopefully, Tyrus learns from it and gets better. But, it's not the first thing that's happened with Tyrus. He's got to be smarter and he's got to be committed to the team. Today was a good practice -- not for him, but for everybody and now we've got to move on."
Moving on was the mantra of the day at the Berto Center, but it was clear that Del Negro isn't any closer to suddenly giving Thomas more playing time. The LSU alum, who declined to speak to reporters after practice, has played more than 20 minutes in a game just once over the past week and a half.
Del Negro was asked if he believes that the young forward has gotten the point. It was apparent -- in so many words -- that Del Negro didn't think he had.
"You hope so," Del Negro said. "Everyone handles things differently. Hopefully ... that's been expressed several times. But, different guys take it in different ways. No one guy is bigger than the team, but we got to move on from there. We got a game [Tuesday] night, let's focus in on that. For me, that stuff is in the past. We got to move forward and get ready."
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose told the media that Thomas apologized to all his teammates right after the incident, but his most revealing answer came when he was asked if anyone on the team had tried to talk to Thomas about keeping his emotions in check.
"Everybody," Rose said. "Everybody talked to him. People handle stuff certain ways. It seems like he's on the right path, so we're just going to leave him that way."
Rose may be one of the only people left on the team who believes Thomas is on the right path, because his head coach certainly doesn't seem to agree. It would surprise absolutely no one if the Bulls moved Thomas before the trading deadline, and it was clear in almost every answer Del Negro gave that he is sick of dealing with the former fourth-overall draft choice.
"Tyrus has got to run the court. Play hard. Execute the game plan. Hit open 15-foot jumpers. Be committed to the team. Same thing everyone else does," Del Negro said, while discussing what Thomas needs to do to earn more playing time. "Everyone has a job on this team. Certain guys do different things better than others. Everyone knows their role, knows what they need to do and now they have to go out and do it. And the guys that go out on a consistent basis and are coachable and want to buy into the team and give us the best chance to win -- those are the guys that are going to be out there. It's a very simple process."
It's a process that Thomas has not done well with up to this point in his career. No matter what he does from here on out with the Bulls, it's clear that he will not be able to maximize the potential that the franchise thought it was getting when they drafted him.
When asked later if the lack of defense was the key reason Thomas wasn't seeing the floor, Del Negro rattled off one more not-so-veiled shot at his forward.
"There's not one particular thing [keeping Thomas on the bench]," Del Negro said. "Whether it's running the court or executing the plan or taking the proper shots or being a good teammate, whatever the case is, for Tyrus or anybody else. Tyrus has the ability to change games with his athletic ability. But there has to be some type of consistency that you know what you're going to get from him.”
Aside from the outbursts and the sometimes surly behavior, the biggest reason Thomas' Bulls career could be coming to an end is because he never found that consistency that Del Negro and so many others have been trying to get out of him.
"As human beings we all get frustrated with everything in life in different situations, but you can't act out in your frustrations," Hunter said before Saturday's game against the Miami Heat. "At some point, you have to grow up and be a man about it, or a woman about it. Life is full of trials and tribulations. If you get frustrated every time you have [a problem] then you're going to live a pretty frustrated life."
Asked whether Thomas still has some growing up to do, Hunter said, "Of, course. We all do. We all have areas in our life we need to grow up in. As long as you realize it and you constantly work on those things, eventually you conquer your own demons. I think that's a battle within [Thomas] has to work on."
Hunter said Thomas, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, still has a chance to become a great player in the NBA.
"He has a really high ceiling," Hunter said. "He has the potential to be as good as he wants to be and it's just a matter of him taking initiative to realize what he is, what he brings to the table, slowing himself down and put his game in a box."
Hunter stopped short of saying the suspension will serve as a wake-up call for Thomas.
"We all struggle with different things," Hunter said. "Maybe it's a different process for him than it is for somebody else. We all do things in our own time and our own way. Maybe this will help him understand that he needs to get beyond some things."
Thomas, who earlier in the season was sidelined seven weeks with a broken left forearm, will miss Saturday's contest against the Miami Heat at the United Center.
The team did not give specifics on the reason for the suspension.
Continue reading this story.
Greetings from Phoenix!
The problem is that it's only getting tougher from here. They've got back-to-back games against the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets on Friday and Saturday and still have to play the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Hornets. Yikes.
To take your mind off of all the possible gloom and doom lurking over this road trip, let's dive right into the first edition of the Bulls mailbag ...
Byrdbz (Washington, DC)
First of all, let's get one thing clear from the start: The Bulls are not going to trade Joakim Noah any time soon. He is well on his way to becoming one of the best centers in the League and is averaging a double-double every night.
Now that we've got that straight, I would think the Bulls would be open to giving up Luol Deng if the deal was right, but who is going to want to take that contract in return? He is guaranteed more than $51 million over the next four years. Do you think a lot of teams will be excited to talk about that contract? Didn't think so.
How active are the Bulls in the trade market?
Christopher (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Speaking of the trade market, like most teams I think the Bulls are kicking all the tires and trying to figure out where they can upgrade and/or clear more space off the books in advance of this summer's free agent class. The rumors have been floating around Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich for a while and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next month. I would guess that the Bulls will make some kind of deal before the deadline.
Do you think it's time for Tyrus Thomas to find a new home? He is good off the bench when he wants to be, he just has to throw that mid-range "jumper" out of the window.
Joe Jao (Buffalo Grove, Ill.)
I feel like "The Tyrus Question" has become this season's version of "The Ben Gordon Question" from last year. Aside from trying to figure out who the Bulls are going to sign this summer, people want to know what the team is going to do with Thomas. I've said this before and I'll say it again now. There's little doubt that Tyrus is inconsistent and can frustrate fans and coaches alike. But, I think most people forget that he is just 23 years old. 23!
Unless the Bulls are positive that they can no longer wait around for him to get better, I think it would be best for them to just wait this season out and see if he can mature on the floor at all. As for the jumper, he hasn't been hitting it much over the past few weeks, but Wednesday night against the Clippers he hit several. So, as usual with Tyrus, you never know what to expect.
Do you think D-Rose will be able to develop a good 3-point shot? It seems as if he could consistently get more arc on his shot, his range will only get better. He will be better than, let's say, Jason Kidd, right?
I do think at some point in his career Rose will be able to develop a solid 3-point shot. He works hard on his game and is usually the last guy in the gym taking jumpers after practice. Having said that, I don't think that particular shot is a priority for him at the moment. He seems to be focusing more on the mid-range jumper and the floater. But yeah, I do think he will become a better shooter than Kidd is as his career rolls along. Much like Thomas, Rose is still just 21. He has a long time to improve.
It's been a problem for the Bulls for the past couple of years... why can they play up to the teams that they "shouldn't" beat and then later play down to teams they "should" beat? Drives me nuts!
Joe Jao (Buffalo Grove, IL)
Joe makes a second appearance this week because his question is one that has been asked by numerous fans across the city. The problem is that there is no clear cut answer to this question. Relating specifically to this season though, I don't think there are many teams on the Bulls schedule where you know for sure that they can get a win. There aren't many teams that they "should beat." For the most part there are either teams that clearly have more talent or are usually evenly matched with the Bulls. Maybe in a year that changes. But for right now, every game is going to be a battle, to borrow a favorite phrase from VDN.
All right, thanks for all the questions, everybody! Send in some more this week.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this question -- When we talk again next week, what will the Bulls record be on this road trip?
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Lately, Tyrus Thomas' energy has been up and down, and he has struggled to find consistent minutes from coach Vinny Del Negro.
LOS ANGELES -- What do you do with Tyrus Thomas?
It's the question that has hovered over the Bulls for a few years and it's one that continues to pop up as the season rolls along. When Thomas came back from a broken forearm last month, many thought that he would give the Bulls the type of energy boost that they had been missing. He did for a while; over his first four games, the Bulls went 4-0 and Thomas played very well. He was active on the floor and managed to score 21 points in a win over the Hornets on Dec. 26.
Four weeks later though, Thomas doesn't look like the same player.
Once again, his energy has been up and down, and he has struggled to find consistent minutes from Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. After taking 17 shots in his first game back on Dec. 26th, Thomas has taken just 16 over the last three games, making only five of them. Del Negro was asked about Thomas' performance lately after practice on Tuesday, and it's clear if you read between the lines, the head coach is frustrated with the fourth-year pro.
"It's just a matter of working your minutes when you're out there," Del Negro said. "Running the court, getting after it defensively. Being committed to what we're doing. Executing the game plan, and hustling and playing hard. Doing the things that help us win basketball games. And the guys that are out there, that are going to do that on a consistent basis, will get more minutes. That's just the way it works. Like I said from Day One.
"We need his activity. We need him to play well, just like all the other guys. It's not about scoring. It's not about shooting and getting your shots. It's about being a good teammate, playing the right way and when there's opportunities to score and block shots, or run or make the right pass, or handle the basketball or whatever & you have to make plays. We need Tyrus to go back to doing that. And a few other guys as well."
Simply put, Del Negro wants Thomas to earn his minutes, and it sure doesn't seem like he has done that over the past couple of weeks. As Del Negro, and plenty of other people have pointed out, though, the Bulls need Thomas to play well if they're going to be successful.
If not, it's going to be a painful road trip for the Bulls, and in the long term, it could also finally mark the end of Thomas' tenure in Chicago, because the Bulls may believe that they have finally seen enough.
Sam Sharpe/US Presswire
Tyrus Thomas has struggled to get back on the roll that he started off on since returning from a broken forearm two weeks ago.
DEERFIELD, IL. -- Is it a coincidence that the Bulls have lost two in a row and Tyrus Thomas hasn't played a significant role in either game?
It depends on who you ask.
The only thing that is clear surrounding the Bulls right now is that Thomas has struggled to get back on the roll that he started off on since returning from a broken forearm two weeks ago.
"I don't think he's been in as good of a rhythm as he was the first few [games]," Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro said after practice. "He gave us such a big boost when he came back. He'll be fine. I thought he had an excellent practice [Thursday]. We need his activity and his shot blocking. Running the court and doing the things he's capable of. He gives us more of a shot-blocking presence in there. We'll get him back on track [Friday] night. The more consistent he is on the court, the more minutes he'll get just like everybody else. We need him to play well and he knows that."
While Del Negro seems confident that Thomas can get back on track quickly, if you read between the lines, it's clear that Thomas is a little confused by the entire playing time situation. When asked if he was frustrated by the team's recent two-game losing skid, Thomas said that he was "very" frustrated.
"For different reasons than others," Thomas added, "but we just got to get back on the same page and just keep playing hard."
When asked whether or not he was still a little rusty, Thomas said he was about "90 to 95" percent and then added that he was, "once again trying to find my niche on this team."
That has been a running theme for Thomas over the past few years.
In this particular case, it seems that Del Negro simply has more confidence in rookie Taj Gibson at the moment. The USC alum was recently re-inserted back into the starting lineup and has played very well over the past week, averaging nine points and seven rebounds over his last eight games. When a reporter floated the idea that a bounce back into the starting lineup might give Thomas a boost the same way it did for Gibson, the second-year head coach seemed to dismiss the idea. While he has said repeatedly that the starting lineup is not set in stone, it doesn't appear that Thomas will be there anytime soon.
"I just feel that Taj has earned every minute and with Taj and [Kirk] in the lineup we seem to have had a little bit better starts at times," Del Negro said. "Guys are going to get their minutes if they're productive and if they execute the game plan and know what we're doing. I'm happy with the starters right now and there's no reason to change anything until I feel differently."
Thomas is just hoping he can change his coaches' mind some time soon. In the meantime, he is just trying to earn Del Negro's trust.
"I think I have a pretty positive effect on [the other players]," Thomas said. "I haven't really put my finger on what it is but I feel like as long as I'm on the floor we have a pretty good chance at winning."
That was true for four games recently.
You'd have to think Del Negro would try out that theory again if his team can't turn things around soon.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Tyrus Thomas has been a big boost to the Bulls since he returned from an injury.
Tyrus Thomas is a hard guy to figure out.
There are days when he has games that show why he was the fourth pick in the 2006 NBA draft. He's long, athletic, and he can play solid defense when he wants. In short, he can be the type of difference-maker that successful teams must have.
The LSU product has proven that at various points since returning from a broken forearm injury on Dec. 26. In his first game back, he had 21 points and nine rebounds, a performance which helped get the Bulls back on track and off to a four-game winning streak.
But Thomas can also be a non-factor. His energy level has been called into question since he came into the NBA, and there are games in which he doesn't provide the type of boost that you might expect from a guy with his talent.
But one thing about Thomas is certain: The Bulls are a much different team with him in action. That was clear during the recent winning streak when Thomas averaged 14 points and nine rebounds.
"Everybody's been playing hard as of late," Thomas said recently. "I think that's been the key, getting everybody to play together, be on the same page. And we've been doing that so far."
In many ways, Thomas is just thankful to be back on the floor. After returning from the broken forearm, he admitted that he viewed the game from more of a coaches' point of view and was just happy to be able to contribute again.
"It was incredibly difficult for him," Thomas' agent Brian Elfus told me recently. "He would text me and call me every day and be like, 'I can't wait to get back out there.' He just wanted to play in the worst way. It was difficult [for him] to watch from the sidelines. I think it gave him a whole new perspective on the game and made him that much hungrier to get back with his teammates and really contribute."
Elfus believes that the injury, and time off was the toughest thing Thomas has had to deal with.
"But in hindsight it may have been a very positive thing for him to go through," he said. "I think he watched the game differently and now has taken some of the stuff he learned when he was out and is applying it ... He's become a much more patient player, and it's showing on the court."
But the question for the Bulls is whether that patience and new-found appreciation for the game will sustain itself.
The organization could not come to terms with Thomas on a contract extension before the deadline for his draft class passed earlier this season. Rumors have swirled that Thomas could be packaged in a trade, thus freeing up more cap space for the all important free-agent class of 2010.
Some fans have tired of the inconsistent effort that Thomas has shown during his career. As several people have pointed out, it sure doesn't seem like Vinny Del Negro has complete confidence in Thomas, either. After playing so well in his first few games back, Thomas has averaged just 19 minutes during the Bulls' past three games.
Although it may be easy for some fans to get down on the fourth-year forward, there is one key component that many forget:
Tyrus Thomas is still just 23 years old.
He's still putting his game together, and there's little doubt that he's still maturing.
The Bulls have invested so much time and effort into Thomas that it seems a little strange that they would give up on him now unless they are convinced that he will never become the player they thought he would be. Or, they are convinced that by clearing his cap number off the books it will somehow get them closer to another mega free agent this summer.
Either way, both reasons appear to be a stretch. There's no way of knowing whether Thomas, at 23, has reached his potential. And there's certainly no way of knowing whether the money the Bulls might save on his contract would help land someone else.
For the time being, the organization seems content to just ride out the next few weeks/months and continue to evaluate what Thomas can give them in the future. Nobody is quite sure what will happen, though. Will Thomas continue to provide the Bulls with a boost that they missed while he was out? Will they trade him and hope that they can land a more consistent player in the future? Will Thomas finally reach the big-time expectations that everybody set for him?
Tyrus Thomas really is a hard person to figure out.