Charlotte Hornets

What’s the harm in playing Thomas the rest of the way

For the first time in nearly two months the Charlotte Bobcats’ most expensive player going forward played Monday.

Tyrus Thomas came off the bench in both halves against the Milwaukee Bucks, and actually played pretty well. In 23 minutes he scored 13 points off 5-of-9 shooting, grabbing two rebounds and a steal.

This begs a question: With a handful of games left in another bad season, why not play power forward Thomas the rest of the way? What’s the harm?

Thomas had been shelved since a Feb. 6 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He went 25 games without a minute of playing time. Sometimes he was listed as inactive. Other times he was in uniform, but never got to take off his warm-ups.

The team has seemingly gone out of its way to let Thomas know he’s not needed. The game after the Bobcats traded for Josh McRoberts, he – not Thomas – was listed on the active roster. That despite the fact McRoberts hadn’t even practiced with his new team.

Then Thomas was told to stay home during the Bobcats’ most recent West Coast trip.

There’s no question Thomas has contributed to his own demise on this team. He’s a quirky, moody guy. He’s lost some explosiveness and a whole lot of self-confidence. But the Bobcats owe him roughly $18 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. So unless the decision has already been made to amnesty him this summer, why not at least explore if he can still be of some use?

Thomas was a very expensive experiment from this team’s Larry Brown era. They traded a future first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls (the Bobcats still owe the Bulls that pick) and then they gave him a lucrative contract to stick around.

This isn’t the NFL, where you can just cut someone and wash your hands of millions in salary. The Bobcats are on the hook for Thomas’ money whether or not he’s on the roster (amnesty only negates the salary-cap implications).

Playing him in the remaining handful of meaningless games would serve two purposes: The Bobcats could confirm whether Thomas is of any use to them. And other teams would get a look at Thomas, which holds out some small hope of a trade.

I’m not suggesting a trade is likely. Any team willing to accept Thomas would want to dump one or two similarly bad contracts on the Bobcats’ payroll. But to not at least explore whether Thomas can be of some use makes little business sense.

The front office has been very respectful of coach Mike Dunlap’s authority over playing time. I get Dunlap’s point about trying to remake this team’s culture. Accountability is important to any enterprise.

The balance to that is this is the NBA, where nearly every contract is guaranteed. Your employees are both your product and your biggest cost. With nothing else at stake these last few games, why not explore what an asset is still worth?