Published February 25, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When the Charlotte Bobcats invested $40 million in Tyrus Thomas in 2010 they envisioned him being a key building block in their foundation.
But the high-priced, seven-year NBA veteran has not lived up to expectations and barely sees the floor anymore.
He hasn't played in the team's last eight games, and has been declared inactive for the last six by first-year coach Mike Dunlap.
When Thomas has played he hasn't been particularly productive, shooting 32 percent from floor and averaging 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
One of the reasons Thomas isn't playing is because Dunlap wants to get younger players like Bismack Biyombo more experience. But Dunlap said that a lack of consistent effort has also played into the decision to sit the 6-foot-10 power forward.
Dunlap said Thomas' effort has "been there at times, but other times it hasn't been where it needed to be."
"I think consistency is the word," Dunlap added. "It's pretty simple. The other thing is we have some fours in here that are pretty young and it's real obvious I've been doling out the minutes to those guys in that form. (But) the one thing that is not up for grabs is effort — consistent effort. You play to your strengths."
Perhaps a bigger problem for the Bobcats is what to do with Thomas, who is under contract for two years beyond this season — at a salary that makes it difficult to cut him.
He's due to make $8.69 million next season and $9.38 million in 2014-15.
His play dropped off dramatically last season, but the Bobcats banked on Thomas being able to regain the form he had in 2010-11 when he averaged 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Shortly after being hired as head coach last summer, Dunlap made a special trip to Thomas' hometown in Louisiana to talk about expectations heading into the season and seemed convinced he could fit into his style of play.
Thomas seemed rejuvenated by the conversation and the new opportunity after feuding with former coach Paul Silas last season, the result being an altercation in April in which Silas pushed Thomas into his chair in the locker room after a loss to the Boston Celtics.
Thomas put 20 pounds back on before the season — weight he'd lost from being hospitalized during the NBA lockout with ulcers — and things looked promising for a while.
But Thomas missed 30 games this season due to a leg injury and he's only scored 86 points this season — or $93,023.25 per point based off his $8 million salary.
In addition, the Bobcats still owe a protected first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls for the trade that originally brought Thomas to Charlotte in 2010. That pick becomes unprotected in 2016.
"I don't ever think about the money that anybody invests," Dunlap said Thomas' playing time and salary. "The standards are we have a compass of what leads to good basketball. And so, he's not the only one. There are other guys who make a fair amount of dough too and the expectations are the same."
Ben Gordon and Gana Diop are two other high-priced Bobcats who've seen reduced playing time.
Diop, who makes $8 million this year, is averaging 2.3 rebounds and 0.6 points per game while playing in only 19 games. His contract is up after the season.
Gordon makes $12.4 million this year and is due to make another $13.2 million next year. He has been productive offensively this season before seeing his minutes reduced after a practice altercation with Dunlap. Gordon sat out Friday night's game after the team was unable to trade him, although he did return to play 11 minutes against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
"If a guy doesn't play and you're wondering why he went from this amount of minutes to that amount of minutes, to me it is an effort-based thing," Dunlap said. "Do you play good solid defense and all of the contributions that fans would come to expect, too?"
Thomas turned down interview requests through the team's public relations department.
Teammate Gerald Henderson said Thomas has been "a model citizen" and hasn't been a distraction in the locker room.
"He's been a pro every day," Henderson said. "He comes in and gets his work in. Whatever the situation, he's putting his work in just to make sure he's ready."
Dunlap wouldn't rule out Thomas returning to play this season for the Bobcats, saying "anything is possible."
"When you make extreme statements that is not a good thing," Dunlap said. "I think fairness is what I always look for."