The Best of a Bad Situation: 8. Tim Thomas

(We’re counting down the best 20 Bucks since 1991 over the next few weeks. It’s something to do with the lockout sucking the life out of NBA fans. We continue with number 8. Tim Thomas. Thomas is that rare player who perennially underachieved, but got better in the playoffs. In the sense that he didn’t care much for the regular season, but showed off his versatility, effort and swagger in the playoffs, Thomas is truly my worst nightmare. He’s everything everyone who has ever criticized the NBA is talking about. But in another sense, Thomas fondly reminds me of what once was.

I still remember him rubbing George Karl’s head, the Notorious T.I.M. headline on the day he signed his big deal and all those three-pointers he hit that one January day in 2001. In this era, those were the best of times to be a Bucks fan and he played a big part in that. I also remember being thrilled when he was traded. A mixed bag that Tim Thomas is. – Jeremy)

When you say Tim Thomas, the first image that pops in my head is the classic two-headband look he sported for several games as a member of the Bucks. It isn’t the integral role Thomas played as sixth man during Milwaukee’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 or his failure to live up to his full potential. Nope, I remember Thomas best as the guy that wore two headbands in a criss-cross pattern during actual NBA competition.

For a guy I remember best for the accessories he wore, Thomas had a solid career in Milwaukee. He arrived via trade from Philadelphia along with Scott Williams for Tyrone Hill and Jerald Honeycutt in March of 1999. After coming off the bench for the first few games following the trade, George Karl inserted Thomas into the starting lineup to finish out the season. Karl was rewarded for his decision, as Thomas connected on a career-best 49.5%^ of his shots and displayed the versatile game that made him the 7th overall pick of the 1997 draft.

It seemed like Thomas could be that rare late 90’s NBA draft pick that actually could live up to his potential. Oh were we fooled.

Thomas was relegated to sixth man the next season. Rather than pout over the demotion, he upped his numbers across the board and seemed to relish his role off the bench. He made Karl look like a genius in the Bucks series with the Indiana Pacers, posting an astounding 22.6 PER in the team’s first round loss.

Thomas carried his strong play into the 2000-01 season, completing the year with a 16.4 PER, the best of his career. I am embarrassed to admit I was a little late to jump on the clunky, tattered Bucks bandwagon. I always had an interest in the NBA, but it took me a little too long to really get into the hometown team. I went to a few games at the Bradley Center here and there, but the run to the Eastern Conference Finals really solidified my place in this masochistic world we call Bucks fandom.

During the 2000-01 NBA season, I was an impressionable 13 years old. At that age, I was all about trying to fake cool and subvert authority. Naturally, when I saw Thomas’s effortless style of play, I was enamored. Then he wore two headbands, and I fell in love.

While Thomas was robbed of the Sixth Man of the Year Award that season, he finished second to Aaron McKie, any fan watching the Bucks at that time knew how important he was to the team. He complemented the Big Three perfectly, providing the right mix of points (12.6 ppg), rebounds (4.1 rbg) and 3-point shooting (41 percent).

He may have played a little bit too well, as the team gave him a six-year, $66 million deal in the offseason. After cashing in, Thomas regressed. He was handed the starting small forward position when Milwaukee traded Glenn Robinson to the Hawks. After showing his worth as sixth man, it was finally time for Thomas to capitalize on his potential and show he could be an all-star in the NBA. Alas, the man who never seemed to have much of a work ethic didn’t suddenly adopt one after already getting his big payday.

Assuredly already regretting the contract they gave him, the Bucks shipped Thomas to the Knicks at the trade deadline in 2004. Although he never became a star, his all-around talent and ability to gel with the Big Three proved vital during Milwaukee’s march to the Conference Finals.

And if nothing else, we will always have the memory of the two headbands.

Josh Hilgendorf is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Categories: 20 Bucks for 20 Years

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  1. I remember one of those Sports Illustrated Player Polls from a few years back (When Tim was still releveant in the league) and he was by far the player voted #1 for “Player who gets the least out of the most talent”

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  3. Bucks had Scott Skiles syndrome last year. Scott Skiles is an extremely demanding coach, and the first year he is with any team, the players buy into his system and he maximizes the output from his players that first year, and his team maximizes their achievement (I refrain from using the word overachieve, because its an unfair judgement to a team that wins games). I experienced this firsthand as a bulls fan when he was with us. However after that initial year, his teams will slack off under the false assumption that because they are more experienced in his system, they will perform better. The players do not realize that their success within his system depends completely on their effort, and that as such, they must continue to put forth that effort to achieve equal success as they did the previous season. If the team doesn’t put forth that effort, than the team will finish worse than the year before, becoming discouraged and losing faith in his system. Even if they put forth the same effort, their success the first year robs them of a decent draft pick to significantly improve their talent to increase their ability to succeed, and so their failure to improve on their success from the previous year causes the players to lose faith and the system and stop putting forth the same initial effort they had the first season. As players put in less and less effort, the team stops maximizing their achievement, and Skiles is removed from the organization leaving a broken team behind.