"Who is Tyrus Thomas?" The more accurate question might be "What is Tyrus Thomas' value?" However the question is phrased, it's something that the Bulls need to figure out in a hurry.
[Note: I started writing this hoping to evaluate the possibility of the Bulls re-signing Tyrus Thomas next summer, but it quickly turned into something different. The result is a bunch of rambling thoughts on Tyrus Thomas, which is basically a continuation of my earlier rant, which is linked below.]
I have already posted on how the Bulls did not sign TT to an extension, and ranted about how the organization failed to develop TT. Now it's time to figure out exactly what we have in TT going forward.
Clearly the Bulls organization values TT, having drafted him as basically the #2 overall draft pick back in 2006. We technically drafted LaMarcus Aldridge, then swapped him for TT (along with Viktor Khryapa).
The two players were obviously drafted in the same year and both play power forward, but their careers have been vastly different since swapping hats on draft night.
Compare the stats of the 2 players over the first 3 years:
LmA - Rookie year: 22 minutes, 9 points, 5 rebounds
LmA - career: 15.4 points, 7.2 rebounds
TT - Rookie year: 13 minutes, 5.2 points, 3.7 rebounds
TT - career: 7.7 points, 5 rebounds
LmA was recently overpaid by the Blazers, signing an extension worth nearly $70 million over the next 5 seasons. Clearly the Bulls do not see TT as the type of player who commands that type of money because I'm sure TT would have signed the dotted line if that money had been offered by the Bulls.
I am not here to argue that TT should have been offered anything in that range ... but he obviously has value as an NBA player. In the past couple years, trade talks for TT have included both Amare Stoudamire and Carlos Boozer, two legit NBA power forwards. I was opposed to both trades because the upside of Tyrus Thomas is a better fit for the Bulls than Amare already in his prime and Boozer already past his prime. But the Bulls don't see it that way.
The Bulls don't seem to value Tryus as highly as I do. The organization seems to think that TT is not a good fit. If the Bulls are so disenchanted with TT, why weren't those trades made? Why play him inconsistently and drive his value down? Why keep TT around for an extra season or two just to let him walk?
Last summer, the Bulls controversially let Ben Gordon walk. He was arguably the best player for the Bulls over the last few years and possibly the best player ever to sign the QO and then walk for nothing. Now the Bulls are going to do something similar with TT ... let him walk and get nothing in return. (Please don't mistake this for me wishing we had re-signed BG, I am glad we did not over-pay to keep him, but wish we had something to show for the #4 pick in the 2004 draft).
The Bulls are a slightly-above-average team that's not going to win a championship this season. They did nothing to get better this off-season, unless you consider Salmons/Deng an upgrade over BG/Salmons. But the good teams are not content to stand pat or make that type of upgrade. The good teams in the NBA (think Lakers, Celtics, Spurs) challenge for the title every year, and continue to add pieces and improve.
Those teams started in a better position than the Bulls this summer, and all made significant moves (Lakers - Artest; Celtics - Sheed; Spurs - Richard Jefferson). The Bulls were the eighth seed in the East and did virtually nothing. Now we are compounding that by letting another promising young talent walk - and again getting nothing in return!
It's clear that the Bulls don't know what they are doing in the TT situation. They mishandled BG two years ago, which led to him walking last summer. They have been mishandling TT from the day he was drafted (quickly described in this rant).
It's understandable not to sign the extension now. Why not let TT play this season and earn a contract next summer? It seems reasonable for a project player to have to prove that he is developing before he gets a contract extension.
But the Bulls are not doing that, they are not allowing TT to play and develop. VDN is sitting him early to make minutes for Taj Gibson and sitting him late for Brad Miller. TT has no defined role on this team. He is getting sporadic minutes with a quick hook. He is even missing games entirely because of the "flu." If other organizations need guidelines for how to mishandle a young player, look no further.
The Bulls organization has put Bulls fans in an uncomfortable situation ... basically we must hope that TT fails, or at least struggles.
If he struggles, maybe no team will offer him significant money next summer and the Bulls can re-sign him. But what then? Haven't we just set ourselves back a year by not developing the young players alongside D-Rose? If he plays well, some team will overpay (or pay adequately for a project they intend to develop into a 17-12 machine), and the Bulls will fall back on "We could not commit $XX to Tyrus Thomas and that's what TeamX was willing to pay."
I have always believed in Tyrus Thomas, and opposed the trades for Amare and Boozer because I loved TT's upside. He is a young, freakishly-athletic, rough-edged project. He could have spent a couple years developing and then the next decade running-and-gunning with D-Rose, but instead the Bulls organization will watch him walk away for nothing. And Bulls fans will have to watch as TT becomes the type of player we-thought-he-could-be in some other uniform.