If it was his call, Lance Thomas would still be on the Knicks. Alas, the front office didn’t offer him a contract and he signed with Brooklyn, so the time has come to pay tribute to one of the longest-tenured role players in recent Knicks history.
Thomas was on the Knicks for four and a half seasons, which means he spent more time in the orange and blue than Tyson Chandler and Kyle O’Quinn (three years each), J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (three and a half years apiece), and Courtney Lee (two and a half years), to name a few. Seriously, somebody please provide a list of the role players who spent more than four and a half seasons on the Knicks over the last two decades, because doing the research is getting tedious.
Anyway, back to Lance, who played his guts out every time he got on the court during his time with the Knicks. And although overall he was a below average backup who sometimes got too much praise for doing ‘the little things’ — like hustle and try on defense — Thomas does deserve some shine for his love of New York and the effort he displayed on a nightly basis.
Unfortunately for Thomas, 31-years-old, Scott Perry and Steve Mills decided to decline his option and sign an entire roster of other guys instead of bringing him back this offseason. Then, the Nets brought Thomas aboard instead of taking a chance on Carmelo Anthony. The universe works in mysterious ways, man.
So wait, Lance wanted to come back and the Knicks said no?
That’s correct. Thomas loved playing in Madison Square Garden and was disappointed when the Knicks decided to go in another direction, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.
Nobody loved being a Knick more than Lance Thomas https://t.co/w5ReAOWvhE— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) September 28, 2019
“It was always something where I was hoping (returning to the Knicks) would happen. I was there for five years. It didn’t. This is a business,” he said. “I think nothing but the world of those guys — Steve Mills, Scott Perry, Mr. Dolan. Definitely want to thank them for the opportunity I had to represent the New York Knicks.
Thomas told Bondy that going into the summer he thought there was a chance he might get the opportunity to play with some superstars; he just didn’t think it was going to be the Nets.
“I think everyone anticipated something of that nature (with the Knicks signing Durant and Irving). Me personally, I just wanted a chance to win. So anybody they brought on who could help that, that would’ve been awesome,” Thomas said. “I’m no longer with that franchise and it’s time to move forward.”
Before we can move forward, however, we must look backwards.
A look back at the Lance Thomas era
Thomas came to New York when he was just 26 years old, as part of the January 2015 trade that sent Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to Cleveland.
In 40 games with the Knicks that first season, Thomas started 24 times and averaged 8.3 points (43 percent from the field, 33 percent from downtown), 3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 26 minutes per contest. In March 2015, Thomas dropped 24 points in a 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. It was the only time he’d score 20 that year. As a matter of fact, Thomas put up 20 or more just three total times while he was in New York.
Of course, he wasn’t here to be the big bucket getter. Thomas thrived by being the wily benchbound veteran who wasn’t even all that old. In his second year on the team, Thomas posted 8.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 59 total games (five starts), and he showed significant improvement as an outside shooter, increasing his three-point percentage to 40.4. Thomas scored 10 or more points six straight times that December, including a 24-point effort in a loss to the Orlando Magic that served as the end of that double digit streak.
In his third year with the Knicks, Thomas again improved his three-point shooting (44.7 percent), but continued to be very much average otherwise. Prior to the 2017-18 season, Thomas and Courtney Lee were voted co-captains by their teammates. That year, he played 73 games, but his game began to decline. His numbers dropped across the board, including points (4.1 per game) and outside shooting (40.3 percent).
Last year, his statistical struggles deepened, with Thomas posting 4.5 points (39.6 percent from the field, 27.8 percent from deep), 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game. Still, there were a handful of games in which he found ways to craftily compile buckets.
This season, Thomas would have entered the final year of a four-year, $27.5 million deal he had signed with the Knicks, but the front office decided to waive him in order to save about $6.5 million in cap space.
Can you provide a list of every player that was on the Knicks with Thomas at one point or another during his four and a half seasons with the Knicks?
Sure thing! Here they are:
Cleanthony Early; José Calderón; Cole Aldrich; Jason Smith; Tim Hardaway Jr.; Travis Wear; Shane Larkin; Quincy Acy; Langston Galloway; Pablo Prigione; Lou Amundson; Amar’e Stoudemire; Carmelo Anthony; Andrea Bargnani; Alexey Shved; Ricky Ledo; Sasha Vujačić; Kristaps Porzingis; Robin Lopez, Derrick Rose; Jerian Grant; Kyle O’Quinn; Derrick Williams; Arron Afflalo; Kevin Séraphin; Thanasis Antetokounmpo; Courtney Lee; Joakim Noah; Justin Holiday; Brandon Jennings; Willy Hernangómez; Mindaugas Kuzminskas; Ron Baker; Maurice Ndour; Marshall Plumlee; Chasson Randle; Enes Kanter; Ramon Sessions; Doug McDermott; Frank Ntilikina; Damyean Dotson; Michael Beasley; Jarrett Jack; Trey Burke; Luke Kornet; Isaiah Hicks; Emmanuel Mudiay; Troy Williams; Jimmer Fredette; Kadeem Allen; Henry Ellenson; Billy Garrett Jr.; Mario Hezonja; John Jenkins; DeAndre Jordan; Kevin Knox; Mitchell Robinson; Wesley Matthews; Dennis Smith Jr.; Allonzo Trier; and Noah Vonleh.
Zooming out on the Lance Thomas era
Thomas was part of both the 2014-15 and 2018-19 Knicks, which each finished the season at 17-65, good for the worst record in franchise history. The Knicks never made the playoffs with Thomas on the roster, and the team cycled through four coaches during his tenure (Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek and David Fizdale).
Despite all the losing, Lance loved his time with the Knicks. Thus, even though he’s now on the Nets, he deserves everything that comes with the OAKAAK marketing slogan. Here’s some proof of how much Thomas enjoyed being on the Knicks, per the previously mentioned article by Bondy.
“It was a dream come true for me. My family is Knicks fans their whole lives,” Thomas, a Brooklyn native, said. “The opportunity I had to wear that uniform, to play in an arena of that magnitude — I had goosebumps everyday I wore that uniform.
“Just being a local kid. Every time I wore it, I wore it with pride. And as somebody who might not be from the area, they wouldn’t understand how it felt every single day what it was like to wear that uniform. So I think one of my biggest regrets was not winning anything of substance in a Knicks uniform.”
Good luck in Brooklyn, Lance. But not that much luck.