With backup center Omer Asik out for the rest of the playoffs with a fractured fibula, Kurt Thomas will join the Bulls' rotation off the bench. And it's not just a lame rationalization to think the Bulls could benefit from the move.
The 38-year-old Thomas not only adds a dimension offensively with an outside jumper, but he's had an uncanny knack for making a difference as a veteran off the bench. When the Milwaukee Bucks lost center Andrew Bogut to an injury, it was Thomas who stepped in to help the Bucks win five of their last seven games to secure the No. 6 seed in the East.
In fact, in his first start for Bogut last April 6 at the United Center, Thomas grabbed 14 rebounds and outplayed Joakim Noah in a 79-74 victory over the Bulls -- a game that nearly prevented the Bulls from making the playoffs.
He nearly parlayed that success into a playoff upset. With Thomas playing the Udonis Haslem role -- playing tough defense in the low post, hitting occasional jumpers and taking charges -- the Bucks took a 3-2 lead in their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, only to lose the series 4-3.
Thomas played a similar role for the Bulls this season, filling in when Noah and Carlos Boozer were injured. Thomas did not play in 30 regular-season games, but started 37 (the Bulls are 29-8 when Thomas starts).
Thomas' playoff role diminished to nothing as Asik emerged as a factor. Thomas played 24 minutes in Game 1 against the Pacers and 10 minutes in Game 2, but only token minutes after that. He has not played in the last eight games.
But part of his value is his ability to come off the bench cold and contribute. After not playing in eight consecutive games in late February and early March, he started for the injured Boozer and had 13 rebounds in 35 minutes -- and helped hold Al Horford to six points -- as the Bulls beat the Hawks 94-76.
''He brings a lot of toughness to the team,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''Every time he's been asked to fill in he's always ready and he's always performed well.''
Thomas' perimeter shooting brings a different dimension offensively than Noah or Asik and could free up the lane, where LeBron James, Joel Anthony and Haslem have been effective. That made Thomas an option even before Asik was out.
''It gives you another shooter,'' Thibodeau said. ''We can spread people out better. And he also sets great screens. [His] pick-and-roll game is very good.''