Blazers Notebook: NBA veteran journeyman Thomas arrives to join his latest team

Aldridge helped recruit league’s elder statesman

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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TUALATIN, Ore. — The Blazers’ newest — and oldest — addition arrived to training camp Monday.

After signing a two-year deal with Portland, 39-year-old Kurt Thomas had his first workout with his new team and spoke with reporters afterward.

The forward/center said that at one point, “about eight” teams were pursuing his services, but that the Blazers ultimately felt right.

The reason?

“Playing time,” said Thomas, who wore No. 40 in practice.

Well, there may have been a couple of other motivating factors.

Thomas, who is the oldest player in the NBA by one day (Grant Hill), was recruited by Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge throughout December. Thomas said that his fellow Dallas native tried to persuade to come to the Northwest, telling Thomas that he “was the man for the job.”

“That job” will include rebounding, setting screens, and making plays for a Blazers team conspicuously short on big men. And if the 6-foot-9 Thomas’ reputation is remotely accurate — those plays will be made using any means possible.

Marcus Camby, who played with Thomas when the Knicks went to the Finals in 1999, said Sunday that Kurt was the “No. 1 guy in the league” when it came to tactics like grabbing jerseys and holding an opponent’s arm down when fighting for a rebound — adding that Thomas has long possessed a fierce countenance known to intimidate.

But Thomas rejected such a description Monday, saying, “I really think I’m a pussy cat.”

Thomas deal leaves cap room

Acquiring Thomas may be less about what the Blazers obtained and more about what they didn’t give up.

Thomas said that he signed with Portland for the veteran minimum, which means that if the Blazers use the amnesty clause on Brandon Roy (waiving him to get his contract off the books), they would be below the luxury tax and thus have the full mid-level exception.

Should the Blazers decide not to amnesty Roy (who would otherwise still be on the roster despite his seeking a medical retirement), Portland would only have the mini mid-level exception, which would prevent them from seeking a higher-caliber player this free agency period.

Acting general manager Chad Buchanan told blazersedge.com that the Blazers have made “significant progress,” toward deciding whether to amnesty Roy — a decision that must be made by Friday.

As to what type of player Portland would pursue, coach Nate McMillan was not about to specify.

“A one, two, three, four or five,” McMillan said.”

Backup point guard TBA

Nolan Smith has received high marks from McMillan during training camp, but it is apparently too early to tag the rookie as the backup point guard. Smith, McMillan said, is still competing with second-year guard Armon Johnson for that position.

Asked if it was accurate to say that Smith was the backup, McMillan said “No, it’s not. I still have until December 26th (the Blazers’ opening night), to decide, don’t I?”

McMillan did, however, offer an interesting observation on Johnson, saying that he was more of an off guard who looks to score first.

“So really, you play him off the ball,” McMillan said.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com