Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Tyrus Thomas

(In the vein of the highly esteemed David Shoemaker, AKA The Masked Man’s Deadspin column entitled “Dead Wrestler of the Week”, we here at MAMBINO are going to parse our way through the worst contracts the NBA has to offer. Part dedication to the great men who have swindled their way to big checks, part commemoration to GMs that should have been fired and part commentary on the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong, we’ll be here every week with a look at the L’s worst deals)
 
Tyrus Thomas
 
Contract: 5 years, $40 million
Signed by:
Charlotte Bobcats
Salary this season: $8 million
2013 Slash Line: 4.8/2.8/0.7 in 18 games
Expires: 2015
 
You ever had your ass kicked by your dad? Not you know, getting bent over his knee and spanked as a kid. I mean straight up, full-on, gotten beat down by your father?
 
Probably not. You’re reading a yuppie sports blog about NBA contracts. Of course you haven’t.
 
But if you had ever faced a horrible situation like that, you’ll know what it’s like to be Tyrus Thomas, our newest nominee (and winner!) for Bad NBA Contract of the Week. Well, not entirely. The guy is making $8 million dollars this year. You’d only kind of know what it’s like.
 
At the end of the Charlotte Bobcats ill-fated 2011-2012 campaign where they set the record for the worst winning percentage in NBA history, 68 year-old head coach Paul Silas had endured the worst possible situation in his profession. The ‘Cats were an embarrassment for the league and its fans, much less the man leading the team. Silas had seen some staggering losses and losing streaks (plural) extending into 20+ games. Charlotte was severely lacking in talent and for the most part, young players with upside. That is, except for Tyrus Thomas.

Thomas, a long, slender, 6’9” power forward from LSU, has always been brimming with potential but short on fulfillment. He was the number 4 overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Portland Trailblazers, but was swiftly traded on draft night to Chicago for the number 2 overall selection LaMarcus Aldridge. While the Texas product was seen as more of a jump-shooting big softy, Thomas was seen as the more athletic game changer on both ends of the floor. The Bulls noted that they felt Tyrus could be more of an inside-out threat than Aldridge, with better requisite agility and speed to cause problems inside for opposing offenses and defenses.  Thomas was thought to be another piece to an extremely athletic, defense-first, hard rebounding Bulls team who had already drafted future stars Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich. Out of all of them, the former Tiger had perhaps the highest ceiling as longer, shot-blocking Shawn Marion. Not bad at all. In short, Tyrus Thomas was supposed to be a monster.

None of this came to pass. The team was soon disillusioned with Thomas’ steady lack of improvement, scoring anywhere between 6 to 11 points a night with 7 rebounds 1 or 2 blocks–great for a rotation player, but certainly not appropriate for a man of his potential. He showed little discipline on the defensive end (his per 36 minute foul numbers are astounding), poor shot selection and a serious lack of passion for such a highly compensated, endlessly talented prospect. Looking at his averages, Thomas appears as a solid on-court contributor, though maybe not deserving or such a high draft spot. But, after taking one look at his body, strength, speed and agility, you’d be shocked at how little Tyrus achieved considering his numerous physical gifts. He was a massive disappointment to a Chicago club that had traded future top-20 player LaMarcus Aldridge for his tantalizing combination of defensive and offensive potential. So much so, that the Bulls took center Joakim Noah two years later, who soon took many of Thomas’ minutes in the middle.

Ty’s lack of improvement, shitty attitude and cycle of on-court stagnation soon got him shipped out of the Windy City and into the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bulls clearly had grown tired of Thomas, and were happy to see him go for the price of Acie Law, Ronald Murray and a 1st round selection. To-date, those two players are no longer in the league and the pick has yet to be conveyed to the Bulls—in other words, the Bulls have thus far let him go with no current players to show for it. That’s how badly they wanted him gone.

On Charlotte, Thomas wasn’t much better, with a nightly 10 points, 6 rebounds on 44% shooting. But unlike the Bulls who weren’t going to extend him once he reached restricted free agency, the Bobcats were happy to pay up for a blue chip prospect who perhaps just needed to grow up a little bit.  At the end of the season, Charlotte signed him to a 5-year, $40 million dollar contract that was obviously highly contingent on Thomas becoming a more active defender and rebounder. The forward was remarkably still just 24 years old in his 5th NBA season—there was hope.

2010-2011 was a step in the right direction, as Thomas averaged 10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds 1.6 blocks on a career-high 47% shooting. But as the Bobcats fell further into despair, so followed their starting power forward, who fell off a gigantic cliff during Charlotte’s horrendous 2011-2012 season. His production dropped to a nightly 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds with little energy and worse defense. On a team of retreads, aging vets and low ceiling players, Thomas, his $7 million dollar salary and wasted potential stood out. During the 60th game of the season, it all came to a head. The Bobcats were at a 7-52 record having just lost to the Celtics, and were in the midst of what would end up being a 23 game losing streak to end the season. Nowhere to be found was Thomas’ disappointment in the L—in fact, he was yukking it up with the Celtics on the court.

Silas had seen enough. He was already at the helm of one of the worst teams in NBA history and now one of his most talented, highly compensated and underachieving non-stars was not taking losing seriously. Needless to say, the former bruising power forward was cheesed off. He chastised Thomas in the locker room, to which the young player snapped back and approached Silas. Unsurprisingly, the 68 year-old Silas refused to back down, and in a flash, Tyrus found himself on the opposite end of a shove into a nearby locker. Reportedly, the locker room quieted as the imposing senior citizen coach had just backed up his 25 year-old player. Not quite an ass-kicking, but certainly emblematic of Thomas’ career—deceiving, unfulfilling and ultimately, quite pathetic. Word spread about the skirmish, with the former lottery pick at the butt of jokes around the interweb. More than anything, the incident put  a finely scribed exclamation point on just how unjustified Thomas’ contract was–not only was the power forward not maturing in Charlotte, but it was becoming rapidly apparent that he’d never come close to broaching his potential.

Tyrus has slipped to new lows this season, playing in just 18 of the team’s games, getting DNP-CD’d despite the second-highest contract on the team. In fact, his biggest attribute to the team at all going forward is helping them get to the NBA’s salary floor, the minimum any franchise can spend. Though Thomas serves little function on the floor, he’s still a building block for something. Kind of. The Bobcats would undoubtedly love to amnesty their big man, but with owner Michael Jordan noting how he’d “spend money when the time is right”, I would be surprised if he’d agree to a buyout with Thomas and then spend more money to reach the salary floor.

At this point, the potential isn’t just wasted—it’s spoiled and junked. It’s obvious that Thomas will never be the shot blocking, rebounding menace he was built to be—instead, he’ll just be that dude who supposedly got his ass kicked by a 68 year-old man. I can think of no better of a description for such a perennial disappointment. For this, we salute you, Tyrus Thomas.

Like this post? Check out our other Bad NBA Contracts of the Week:

Desagana Diop

Travis Outlaw

Andris Biedrins

Charlie Villanueva

Drew Gooden

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