Neil Paine of the super Basketball-Reference.com Blog dove headfirst into the web that is the Tim Thomas narrative. It’d be a disservice to Paine and you, dearest of readers, if I snipped the post to shreds for the pleasures of dissection and instant information, so I do recommend that you read the whole thing.
That said, I do want to borrow a bit from Paine’s piece to build something of a frame. Thomas’ basketball story more or less begins with the following assessment from NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake:
“Let me say this, there are some people who felt [Thomas] was the best high school player in the country. The kid Bryant came out because he had a big-time deal with adidas. [Jermaine] O’Neal came out because he didn’t get the SAT. We had three high school kids come out [in the 1996 Draft]. Thomas was probably better than all of them.”
And the relevant portion of Thomas’ career ends with the following conclusion from Jack McCallum’s Seven Seconds or Less:
“[In Game 1 of the 2006 Suns-Lakers series], Tim Thomas bails out the Suns. At practice the day before, I watched him effortlessly put up three-pointers as [Marc] Iavaroni tried to distract him. Thomas would get a pass, and Iavaroni would wave a hand in his face or fake a shot toward his nether regions, but Thomas would just smile and launch another, insouciance in a six-foot-ten-inch package. During games, Thomas has begun a ritual by which he waves his own hand directly in front of his face after he makes a jump shot, an indication that nothing can bother him. ‘I wish he’d take that hand and shove it up his ass,’ Alvin Gentry said, almost wistfully, after watching it on film a few dozen times. The gesture doesn’t quite rise to the level of taunting. But it smacks of taunting. Of all the Suns, though, Thomas appears to be the most impervious to playoff pressure, which is good and bad. He is what [Phil] Weber calls ‘a low-flame guy,’ coasting along at a certain speed, unable or unwilling to shift into a higher gear, but, on the other hand, maintaining almost an eerie calm.”
Thomas’ calm is decidedly different from Dirk’s quiet leadership or Dampier’s trademark stoicism. Rightfully or wrongfully, it has commonly been diagnosed as apathy and indifference. To a certain extent, that much is undeniable; Thomas clearly hasn’t shown the same interest in basketball as some of his less talented counterparts.
All of that is reservoir water under the ground under the water under the bridge at this point, but the Tim Thomas of today is still very much who he’s been. Little has changed for Thomas aside from shedding the weight of expectations and the loss of a young prospect’s mystery box intrigue. We know what Thomas is, particularly that he’s not Kobe Bryant or even Jermaine O’Neal.
Still, Thomas represents a fun end-of-the-bench type: the wild card. This isn’t Austin Croshere or Jamaal Magloire; Thomas has significant talent that only sporadically manifests itself in significant ways. He’s a home-run hitter capable of offensive barrages, even if it comes with strategic shortcomings or fundamental defensive flaws. Either way, Tim can never be described as a stop-gap.
In theory, Thomas has all the reason in the world to play his heart out a la his short time in Phoenix. The financial motivations are obvious. Beyond that, this is a situation where Thomas is capable of filling in as a long-range shooter, and provided he can be somewhat reliable in that capacity, will be a welcome addition. Underneath all the first one now will later be last subtext lies a player who’s of particular interest because of his periodic ability to circumvent the Mavs’ bench pecking order in a burst of pure, unleashed potential. If you’re looking for balance, or stability, or consistency look elsewhere — the beauty of Tim Thomas is that he is none of those things. Let the chips fall where they may, but Thomas’ role on the Mavs certainly ranks as an item of intrigue.