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NBA AM: Tyrus Thomas Determined to Resume Career

After the toughest year of his life, Tyrus Thomas is training for an NBA comeback. He opened up to Basketball Insiders.

Alex Kennedy

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Tyrus Thomas Determined to Resume NBA Career

Tyrus Thomas had always been successful. As a high school star in Baton Rouge, he nearly averaged a triple-double and was honored as one of Louisiana’s best players. In his lone collegiate season at LSU, his incredible athleticism allowed him to become the team’s starting power forward and fill the stat sheet. He was named the SEC Freshman of the Year, leading the program to their first Final Four since 1986 and earning the Most Valuable Player award of his tournament region. Shortly after, Thomas was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.

A rocky seven-year NBA career followed and then Thomas experienced what he calls “one of the hardest times of my life.”

Thomas disappeared from the spotlight after being amnestied by the Charlotte Bobcats in July of 2013. In addition to losing his career and stepping away from the game he loved, Thomas also went through a divorce and what could have been a career-ending surgery to remove a cyst from his back.

“I can’t begin to tell you what was going through my mind,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “It all felt overwhelming – being released, going through a divorce and then the injury that led to me ultimately having to have surgery.”

During that time, Thomas was weighing whether to have surgery and trying to decide if it was worth going through.

“I would wake up, pick my basketball up off the floor, bounce it around the house and say, ‘I want to play. I have something to prove to everyone who believed in me. I have something to prove to myself. I can do this,'” Thomas said. “Then, I’d wake up the next day not feeling good physically and I’d think, ‘This surgery isn’t worth it.’ I had good days and I had bad days.”

It was a tough time in Thomas’ life, but now the 28-year-old is once again healthy and has a new perspective on life and the game. He has relocated to San Antonio, the home of his new agent Roger Montgomery, and he’s training for an NBA comeback. He has taken the positives from his experiences and is hoping to resume his NBA career this season.

“My body is feeling good,” Thomas said. “I’m just getting back into the rhythm of everything. Since my surgery, this has really been the first time that I’ve been able to work out and give it my all, doing everything without any restrictions. I’m just trying to get in shape, get my body back to the way it needs to be to play an NBA season.”

Thomas admits that he didn’t always handle things the right way during his first stint in the NBA and believes many of his setbacks resulted from immaturity and being unprepared mentally for the challenges the league would bring his way. Now, Thomas is hoping to show teams just how much he has grown up.

“I was 19 years old when I first entered the NBA; it’s no excuse and I’ve owned my mistakes, but whew have I grown a lot,” Thomas said. “Over the last two years, I’ve grown not only as a player but as a person. I now realize the opportunities that, at times, I took for granted. I look back now and I was just a poor kid from South Baton Rouge. I didn’t understand then what I understand now. Everything happened at once: getting amnestied, going through a divorce and making the decision if I wanted to come back and play basketball because of the severity of the surgery. Going through all of that, I definitely grew up.”

Thomas is determined to change the perception of him. Off the court, he runs Tyrus Thomas Inc. – a non-profit he founded in 2010 that focuses on “implementing programs geared towards youth outreach and enhancing the community through development.” His signature program C.A.T.C.H. (Caring and Actively Teaching Children Hope) won the National Jefferson Award for Public Service and was featured in the 2010 report on volunteerism to the White House. Thomas received numerous community awards while in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats, and he frequently speaks to groups of students to spread his positive, motivational message.

On the court, Thomas averaged 7.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in his first seven years in the NBA. Thomas’ best season was in 2008-09 with the Bulls, when he averaged 10.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 steals. As he looks to continue his NBA career, he’s determined to find a good situation where he can thrive.

“I think if I’m in a good situation, the perception will change; I think that’s inevitable,” Thomas said. “I want to find a team that I can mesh with and add value to.”

Larry Brown, Thomas’ former coach with the Bobcats, believes he can make a successful comeback into the NBA.

“Tyrus has got a lot of good years ahead of him and I know he’s talented enough and cares enough to play again,” Brown said in a statement through Montgomery Sports Group. “I enjoyed my time with him, he was a great team player and I’ll do anything I can to get him back into the league.”

The NBA regular season tips off on Tuesday. Once Thomas is back in game shape and roster spots open up around the league due to injuries and transactions, don’t be surprised if Thomas gets an opportunity to salvage his career.

“Everyone isn’t given second chances, and I have a legitimate second chance,” Thomas said. “I can’t let this opportunity slip away.”

Villanueva Earns Roster Spot in Dallas

Over the summer, Basketball Insiders ran a web series that showed NBA veteran Charlie Villanueva’s efforts to continue his career and get signed by a team.

The Dallas Mavericks ultimately signed Villanueva to a non-guaranteed deal, but there was no certainty that he’d make the final roster. However, after strong play in training camp and preseason games, Villanueva beat out Bernard James, who had a guaranteed deal, as well as fellow camp invites Ivan Johnson and Doron Lamb.

The 30-year-old veteran is thrilled to have this opportunity and he believes he can contribute in Dallas. His last few years with the Detroit Pistons were very underwhelming, but Villanueva has career averages of 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds and has shown he can be a productive role player when put in the right situation.

On his official blog, Villanueva discussed his journey and excitement for the upcoming season:

So here I am in Dallas, the regular season is around the corner and I am so hyped about it. I have to get a place to live, I am tired of room service, and I am ready to get this part of my career underway. I haven’t been this excited about basketball in a really long time.

This was truly a challenging process. I was talking to my boy, RJ (Richard Jefferson), and he really put making the team into perspective. This was a hard thing to do. I never wavered with confidence but if you really think about it, this was challenging. The team was set… they had 15 guaranteed contracts before I even met with Coach (Rick) Carlisle the very first time. I had to beat out guys who (Mark) Cuban already committed to. And Cubes and Co. have always told me that this is a team that would not worry about money… that they would sign the best players for the team to contend for a championship. I didn’t take a dollar to join this team at training camp. I had to come to Dallas and EARN my spot. A workout turned into a camp invite, which turned into making the team, which could turn into anything. Imagine if I am part of a process to win a title? How crazy of a story will that be? And to be really truthful, most of the time, I didn’t know where I stood. I had a lot of good moments during this process, but I also had moments where I was clueless on my standing.

This has been a totally different experience for me. Obviously, I was picked in the Top 10 NBA Draft, had a great rookie season, made some good waves at Milwaukee and then went to Detroit with a ton of promise. We know how that story ended… it didn’t work out. BUT I never had to be a part of an experience where every single day, every single play, every single shot, every single moment… I was fighting for my life. Fighting for my dream… and little by little, my dream was becoming a reality.

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. And trust me life is interesting. Always believe in yourself. Always believe in your dream. Always have the courage to confront your dream.

Be sure to check out Villanueva’s blog and look back on his web series, as his journey to this point has been very interesting.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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