Remember This Guy: Kenny Thomas

What are you plotting over there, Billy? - Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Cotton candy, sweet and low, let me see that screen and roll. To the left, to the left. To the right, to the right ...

Living up to their word that re-signing Kenny Thomas would be their No. 1 goal during free agency, the 76ers yesterday extended an offer sheet to the forward, who is a restricted free agent.

The offer was believed to be for six years at more than $50 million, according to a team source. (Philadelphia Inquirer; July 1st, 2003)

Today's Remember This Guy subject needs no introduction. He's a legend around these parts.

It's your day, Kenny. Enjoy it.

Name: Kenny Thomas

College: New Mexico

Sixers Tenure: 2002-2005

If Kenny Thomas Was a Wrestler ...: He would be ‘Cowboy' Kenny Gunn, the long lost brother of Bart and Billy Gunn.

Is There a Kenny Thomas Highlights Mix on You Tube? Yes, there's a Kenny Thomas Highlights Mix on You Tube.

Favorite Movie: Van Helsing

Semi-Believable Dialogue from The Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast in 2018:

"Hinkie's gonna have some real cap flexibility once Kenny Thomas' contract comes off the books."

"Great point, Spike. Not to mention the fourteen 2nd Round picks the Sixers have."

From the Philadelphia Inquirer , December 19th, 2002:

The Sixers gave up relatively little for a player who has started 14 of the Rockets' 20 games this season, averaging 9.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 29.3 minutes. Long was averaging just 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in 6.9 minutes per game, while Bryant had seen action in just 11 games, averaging 1.1 points and 7.0 minutes.

Sixers general manager Billy King said that he and coach Larry Brown had coveted Thomas, the No. 22 pick in the 1999 draft out of New Mexico, for at least two years. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Thomas can play either forward position, and he fits in nicely with the Sixers' approach to defense and scoring in transition.

"He can play the three, the four, and he can score," King said. "He fits in with how we want to play, and just watching our team, we felt we needed to have that."

Kenny Thomas was the industry standard for early-2000s power forwards. He had the face-up game and the range that extended to the outskirts of Long Twoville (quaint little town by the way). Now, this excludes his first two seasons where he had early Thaddeusesque success from beyond. After that, Kenny was a career 2-28 from three.

By the time the Sixers acquired Thomas, he had already shown the potential to be a walking double-double. Thomas' production was Weatherspooonish in nature, a perfect cocktail of ten plus points and ten plus rebounds. And if there is anything this country likes - it's clean, round numbers. ‘Double-double' just rolls off the tongue. But ‘14 and 8'? Oh, how crass and violent!

In 2003, Billy King, in one of his first moves as Sixers team president, inked Thomas to the now notorious 7-year, $50 million dollar contract. But when you're 18, it doesn't really hit you right away. When you're 18, you're preoccupied with chasing girls, or finding booze, or hitting the trifecta at the 8th Race at Monmouth Park.

"Just heard that the Sixers gave Kenny Thomas like a 27-year contract."

That's cool, I guess. I think he averages like a double-double. You wanna play Edward Forty Hands or something?

Now, the above exchange was my reaction ten years ago because I'm obviously a complete idiot. I didn't consider the long-term effects of all of this, like the fact that Kenny Thomas' soul now belonged to the devil.  I didn't think ahead. It didn't click that Rick DiPietro was now the Sixers' starting power forward for all of eternity.

And it's not that Kenny Thomas was a bad player. He was perfectly competent. He could score on the low-block. He had a decent mid-range game. He hit the glass. But even his name felt like a 2nd division power forward. And why Kenny? Why not Ken? Did he go to the Johnny Salmons School of sounding like a jazz saxophonist?

But when you propose a contract for that long, there should probably be a pre-nup involved. And that was Billy King's biggest problem; his propensity to hand out these albatross contracts to marginal players. Those Sixers teams were built solely around Iverson, so if you had a pulse and could set a screen, then King was giving you five years.

Nowadays, you see teams like Houston or Miami (and now the Sixers) manage their salary cap with the future in mind. They can see years in advance, and it's all in an attempt sign a superstar or three. But that wasn't really the case in 2003, and especially not with the Sixers. The Sixers had no cap space, no flexibility. It's like they were trying to parallel park a station wagon in Elfreth's Alley.

If we can cut the wheel a bit, maybe we can throw a couple more grand at Dalembert?

Kenny Thomas was perhaps the poster child of the post-Finals Sixers' woes. It was Allen Iverson and the Overpaid Minions, a rag tag bunch and Doo-wop style musical act who churned out Top-40 hits like:

"I'm Fine with 43-39"

"I Once Had a Big Dog (Woof, Woof)"

"The Grass Is Never Greener (Hey Willie, Willie, Hey Hey, Willie, Willie)"

There were the Marginal players (Brian Skinner), the Average players (Kenny Thomas), the Big Nasty players (Corliss Williamson), the Apathetic (Glenn Robinson; Chris Webber), the Apathetic and Rapidly Aging (Derrick Coleman), and the Oatmeal Faces (Keith Van Horn).

Billy King slung a bunch of shit against the wall during those years, hoping something would stick, hoping someone would leave more than just a trail of smears. And, in 2005, King dug into his bag of tricks one last time and shipped Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson, and Brian Skinner off to Sacramento for Chris Webber and spare parts.

Looking back, we should have known. The Billy King Era had officially jumped the shark. The Sixers acquired one last terrible contract, one final aging superstar who, according to Jim O'Brien, was a 6'11" big man who told O'Brien that he "didn't do the low-post thing anymore." This team was no closer to a championship after that trade than before it. Webber's star was fading, and probably had bad knees, too, for that matter. But C-Webb was still a household name. A huge name.

And at the time, the acquisition was lauded. Finally, people said, Iverson had that complementary piece. Finally, they said, King landed another superstar to pair with AI. And, hey, I bit. I fell for it. I'm secure enough to admit it. Now, we should have known it was a bad omen when the Sixers dropped their first game with Webber, a 101-99 home loss to, interestingly enough, the Sacramento Kings. Kenny Thomas registered 17 and 10 in the victory.

(Billy King, to his credit, rebounded nicely and is currently the General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers).

Kenny Thomas' contract has turned into a punch line for NBA fans, and a cautionary tale for GMs. Bad, and more specifically, lengthy contracts can cripple a franchise's development.  But I don't blame Kenny Thomas. And I don't blame Brian Skinner or Greg Buckner or Derrick Coleman or Samuel Dalembert either.

Kenny Thomas got paid more than he should have. It happens. I've moved on. Just water under the Bridge of Mediocrity.

Besides, the Sixers have spent money on worse things.

Trivia: Six NBA players drafted in the first round of the 1999 NBA Draft played for the Sixers.

Name Them.

(h/t to Mike Levin for his Kenny Thomas memories).

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