By Chris Sheridan
In college at TCU, Kurt Thomas once led the nation in scoring and rebounding, making him one of only three players in NCAA history to do so. Two-and-a-half years ago, his expiring $8 million contract was deemed so unappealing by Suns owner Bob Sarver that Phoenix agreed to surrender two unprotected 1st-round draft picks to Seattle, getting back only a 2nd-rounder in return (the second of those unprotected 1st-round picks goes to the Thunder this June, which is why Phoenix is currently looking for at least one 1st-round pick in any Amare Stoudemire trade).
Thomas is currently playing for his seventh NBA team as he works his way through his 15th NBA season, and he soon could end up with his eighth.
ESPN.com has learned that Thomas, the 37-year old backup center/forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, has emerged as a fallback trade option for the few playoff-bound teams (including Portland, Dallas and Cleveland) open to the idea of taking on additional salary.
"I have heard Portland," Thomas acknowledged in the visiting locker room after the Milwakee Bucks defeated the New York Knicks 114-107 Friday night at Madison Square Garden. "It's always a good feeling when you're hearing teams are interested in you."
Milwaukee is believed to be seeking little more than a second-round pick for Thomas and/or Francisco Elson, two of the three expendable big men clogging the end of their bench (the third, Dan Gadzuric, is virtually untradeable with his $6.8 million contract for this season, plus an additional year at $7.4 million).
Thomas has an expiring $3.6 million contract, and Elson has an expiring $1.7 million deal.
That's a $1.9 million difference, but Thomas is both better and more experienced than Elson, having logged 82 playoff games with Miami, New York, Phoenix and San Antonio. And when it comes to slowing down opposing big men, Thomas knows the tricks of his trade -- and doesn't disclose his secrets.
"Whatever tricks I do know, I try to keep to myself. They [rookies and young teammates] have to learn them on their own," Thomas said. "I'm someone who really understands where to be at, spacing, defense and rebounding."
The problem for the three teams listed above is a dearth of expendable 2nd-round picks.
Portland has two 2010 2nd-round picks, but must convey the least favorable of its own or Chicago's 2nd-rounder to Oklahoma City (via Minnesota). But the Blazers would also have to match salaries, and it's questionable -- despite their dire need for a big body due to season-ending injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla -- whether they'd sacrifice Travis Outlaw's expiring $3.6 million deal to make the salary cap math work in a deal for Thomas (although they were willing to surrender Outlaw to the Bucks a year ago when the teams were discussing a Richard Jefferson trade, but the Blazers wanted Ramon Sessions to be part of that deal, too).
Dallas owes a 2nd rounder to Indiana and has the option of sending its 2010 or 2011 pick to the Pacers, and the Mavericks are also owed a 2010 second-rounder by Oklahoma City -- although the Thunder keep it if it falls between Nos. 31 and 45. Dallas also does not have a one-for-one salary match for Thomas other than Drew Gooden, who is a better player than Thomas. (The Mavs do have a $2.9 million trade exception from the Kris Humphries trade to New Jersey, but that exception is not large enough to absorb Thomas' deal.)
Cleveland owes its 2nd-round pick to Phoenix, and the Suns will have to send it to Minnesota if they finish with one of the league's top 10 records (otherwise the Suns will send their own 2nd-rounder to the Wolves). Also, Cleveland does not have a disposable player whose salary falls within 125 percent of Thomas' (that's part of the trade rules), although the Cavs could get around that problem by pulling a Keith Van Horn trick and doing a sign-and-trade involving the currently idle Wally Szczerbiak or Lorenzen Wright.
Given Cleveland's sign-and-trade options, they would seem to be the most likely of those three teams (unless there is a three- or four-team trade option) to obtain Thomas if their well-chronicled effort to acquire Antawn Jamison from Washington does not come to fruition.
Just a little something to keep an eye on if things are a little too quiet, and the Jamison trade is dead, at 2:30 p.m. ET on the afternoon of Feb. 18, the NBA trading deadline.