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Tyrus Thomas to the Knicks? Yes, Please

Dec 4, 2009 – 7:40 AM
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Tom Ziller

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Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas is firmly on the trade block, with Chicago having discussed potential moves with several teams. Woj's top target, though, steps this up from interesting to intriguing: the Knicks are apparently in talks to acquire T.T. in exchange for a package headlined by Al Harrington.

As I argued Thursday, Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less system is not for everybody, with the travesty that is the Knicks offense offering proof. Harrington is actually a decent fit as a long, clever, fearless shooter. But the New York roster is certainly missing a few key ingredients. Like a passable passing point guard. And a gifted interior passer. And more shooters. And big men who can rebound defensively, sprint the floor and finish at the rim. Thomas fills only one of these roles (and not the most important), but oh! how he could fill it.

Thomas is, statistically at least, one of the best interior defenders in the league. He finished fourth in the league in total blocks last season, and captures defensive rebounds as frequently as most centers. On his career, he averages 1.5 steals per 36 minutes -- steals are typically a good way to judge a big man's defensive skill, provide the big man in question (like Tim Duncan) doesn't play in a system which eschews playing for the steal at all times.

On offense, Thomas wouldn't be the prototype for the D'Antoni system -- he doesn't pass well enough to fill a Boris Diaw type role, he's not a consistent enough scorer to memorialize Amar'e Stoudemire, and he certainly can't shoot like Channing Frye. He may, however, be able to turn himself into a modified Shawn Marion: a skilled sprinter who murders in transition and offers stellar solo defense. At this point in each's respective careers, Marion was much further along the development path. But Thomas is exceedingly young (just 23), and no one has ever denied his possession of incredible raw tools.

The main draw of T.T. on offense is his ability to finish: almost everything he gets around the basket, he dunks. He doesn't have the best touch on those vital 5-10 foot shots, but he's solid, and there's no doubt that (like Josh Smith) he can get religion under the proper tutelage. No offense to Vinny Del Negro, but I think D'Antoni can reach Thomas a bit more easily, given that D'Antoni and Thomas have no beef, while Del Negro and Thomas have nothing but beef.

Certainly, while David Lee is the better rebounder and more efficient (by far) offensive roleplayer, I'd be more ready to hand New York's power forward position to the current Bull than the career Knick. He just has the defensive and interior finishing tools D'Antoni needs. Of course, there's the matter of contractual issues: Thomas will be a restricted free agent at year's end. That means that in order to keep its right of first refusal, the Knicks would be forced to present a qualifying offer in excess of $6 million, which effectively ties up $6 million of cap space heading into the vital free agency period. New York would still be able to offer a max contract to a free agent, should the opportunity present itself, but that would likely result in relinquishing the Bird rights to Lee, who is already on schedule to become an unrestricted free agent but who currently can receive a longer, bigger contract from the Knicks. That'd go out the window, and it probably wouldn't make Lee's camp too happy.

While we're here and discussing a potentially less depressing future for the Knicks, might I suggest this non-LeBron, non-Bosh, non-Wade blueprint? Trade for Tyrus, throw a max contract offer at Amar'e, and offer restricted free agent Sergio Rodriguez a contract Sacramento will refuse to match. None of those individual ideas are either easy to accomplish nor obvious wins, but supposing Sergio's recent electric play has a modicum of truth, and supposing either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler can defend high-powered wings with a few years, I'd say that's a core D'Antoni can take to the playoffs. And there's no sense building for anything other than that right now.
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