The Bulls weren’t exactly forthcoming about why they suspended Tyrus Thomas for Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat, but it didn’t take a huge, throbbing brain to figure out it probably had something to do with the 16 minutes of playing time Thomas logged in Friday night’s loss to the Hawks in Atlanta.
Sure enough, it appears a “profanity-laced postgame outburst” at Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was the cause of Ty’s one-game vacation. It’s yet another chapter in the Saga of Tyrus. It’s a story that seems destined to end badly. At least so far as his career with the Bulls goes.
Thomas is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He has infinite potential and unlimited immaturity. He’s a team-first player as long as he gets his minutes. He’s a big man who converts only 53 percent of his shots at the rim and would much rather take jump shot after jump shot than bang bodies down low. In fact, over half his shots are chucked up from the outside. Which is how he likes it.
As Tyrus put it last November: “I shoot a lot of shots a day, so when I’m in the game and I feel like I want to shoot the ball, I’m going to shoot it. I’m not going to take a shot I haven’t worked on, so whatever I shoot is a shot I know I can make, and if I miss it, oh well.”
That quote has been festering in my Bulls notebook all season. To me, it says almost everything you need to know about Tyrus Thomas the basketball player. But it’s also worth pointing out something about Tyrus Thomas the human being. Namely, this: Although Ty grew up in what was, by all accounts, a loving and supportive home, he may well be living in the shadow of a father who was in and out of prison for most of Thomas’ youth.
This manifested itself in a sometimes troubled adolescence. As Tyrus once put it: “I just couldn’t take other males telling me what to do. I’d be like, ‘You’re not my dad. You can’t tell me this. You can’t tell me that.’ It was kind of like a rebellious stage in my life.”
That troubled childhood has transformed into troubled adulthood. Even now, Thomas is still rebelling. Vinny Del Negro is not his dad. He can’t tell Tyrus what to do. The question is: Who can?
Maybe nobody. Or maybe a stronger coach could, someone capable of being a supportive father-like figure. Or maybe it’s impossible. Maybe the bad habits are set in the stone of Thomas’ stubborn personality. After all, he knows what shots he can hit, and if he misses, oh well.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune seems to believe that these problems could be solved by simply starting Thomas and bringing Taj Gibson off the bench. Is PT the correct method of therapy for a player who doesn’t get it and seems as though he never will? It’s a thorny situation. And anyway, what kind of precedent would the team set by giving in to an underperforming player who is determined to do things his own way. Remember, players earn minutes by accepting their role, making smart decisions and performing to the best of their abilities.
When has Tyrus ever done that on a consistent basis?
Even more damning to Thomas and his situation is the re-arrival of Chris Richard, who was waived before the season started but whom the Bulls signed to a 10-day contract after shutting Joakim Noah until after the All-Star break. Richard came dutifully off the bench against the Heat, snared 7 rebounds, blocked a couple shots, and banged every opposing body in his general vicinity. When he left the game, there was blood on his jersey. The crowd ate it up.
Said Richard: “I know what my role is no matter what team I’m on. I’ve just got to bring energy, defend, rebound, help, whatever I can do. I figured if I get lost on the offensive end, I can just go set a random screen. That’s a great thing about being a big.”
Imagine what Tyrus could accomplish with that attitude.
Potential can sustain coaches and fans for only so long. Eventually, a player must either perform like an All-Star or kill themselves for the team…or they will wear out their welcome. Thomas will return to practice today. Unless he pulls off a Hollywood movie-like transformation from heel to hero, he may discover the Windy City has pulled its welcome mat off the stoop.
Come to think of it, that may have already happened.