Brooklyn Boro

For Nets, Brooklyn-born Lance Thomas is more than just a substitute

Vet power forward provides leadership to depleted roster

July 22, 2020 John Torenli
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Nets power forward Lance Thomas took a rather circuitous route back to the borough of his birth.

The Brooklyn native spent his high school years in New Jersey, played collegiately at Duke, where he won a national championship in 2010, and has spent the bulk of his first eight seasons in the pros in New Orleans with the Pelicans and across the Hudson with the arch rival New York Knicks.

Waived by the Nets during their original training camp in October, Thomas would have likely been denied a shot at his ninth NBA season had it not been for the COVID-19 shutdown and the ensuing slew of positive tests and opt outs that caused Brooklyn to reshape its roster.

Now, he’s on the verge of donning the black-and-white for the Nets as they prepare for the league’s much-anticipated restart in Florida, where Brooklyn will begin its quest for a second consecutive postseason berth with its July 31 opener against the Orlando Magic.

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“I’m definitely familiar with the guys,” Thomas said Saturday following his first practice with the team at Orlando’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex after clearing his mandatory six-day quarantine.

“I did preseason with the team, and I’ve been playing against most of these guys for most of my career, so I’m very familiar with their games.”

Though he’ll have Brooklyn emblazoned across the breastplate of his uniform, Thomas won’t be in our fair borough for the remainder of this campaign, which was halted on March 11 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But he will play a major role in determining whether or not the Nets advance past their eight scheduled regular-season games and into the playoffs, even though he hasn’t suited up for a single contest thus far this year.

“Me personally, I’m just going to be tenacious,” Thomas intimated. “I’m going to make open shots, do whatever the team needs me to do. Probably guard the other team’s best player, do the things that got me into the league and do the things I enjoy doing.”

Signed on July 14, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound defensive stalwart and former McDonald’s High School All-American will also do his best to provide stability and veteran leadership to a roster that has lost the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan.

“He’ll fit into the group, be able to play multiple positions, which we need,” Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn said of Thomas.

“Great veteran presence,” Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen added of his new teammate. “Coming in all of our older guys — I hope they get better — they all came down with coronavirus, and we’re stuck with a younger team. But now having these older guys in here being able to guide us and show us the ropes, I think that helps us tremendously.”

Known for his strong defense, Lance Thomas will be guarding the other team’s offensive stars rather than getting in the way of new teammate Caris LeVert, left. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

At 32 years old, Thomas will still have a few veterans to look up to himself as 40-year-old Jamal Crawford was added as a Nets substitute player earlier this month and Garrett Temple, 34, will be in the mix as well.

Regardless of age, however, Thomas and the Nets’ reshuffled roster have the next 10 days to figure out exactly what system of basketball suits them best as they try to cling to the seventh Eastern Conference playoff spot and avert a potential play-in series with ninth-seeded Washington.

“We’re pros. We’ve got to learn things on the fly regardless,” said Thomas. “There’s a few things I’m probably going to have to learn on the fly, but there is an advantage to knowing the personnel, having experience playing against these guys and playing with them through training camp.

“That’s something that I think will come back fairly easy,” he added. “A lot of these guys know my game as well, so we’re not trying to figure each other out. It comes with the territory. If you’re going to be a professional athlete, you’ve got to be ready to be thrown into any situation and figure it out.”

Thomas, who went undrafted out of college and spent nearly a year in the NBA’s developmental G-League before catching on with the Pelicans in 2012, wasn’t a part of the Nets’ first 64 games of this interrupted season.

Instead, he waited for a call that didn’t come until the Nets saw that only seven of the 15 players on their original Opening Night roster were eligible to compete in Orlando.

But he made sure that he was ready for the opportunity if and when that call finally came.

“Staying in shape is a lifestyle for me, so I was always going to stay in shape regardless if the NBA was going to resume or not,” said Thomas. “Finding gym time was more difficult throughout the quarantine, especially since I live in New York City.

“I didn’t leave the house at all pretty much until June. Left my house maybe three or four times from March to June. I was able to find some gym time and do things in the house to stay in shape. Stayed ready for the opportunity and by God’s good grace it happened for me.”

Nothing But Net: Brooklyn filled its final remaining roster spot by signing swingman Justin Anderson as its final substitute player over the weekend. Anderson, who inked a 10-day contract with the Nets earlier this season, spent 16 games with the team’s G-League affiliate on Long Island, where he averaged 20.5 points and 6.6 assists.“Justin is an athletic, active presence on both ends of the floor,” said veteran Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris, who played alongside Anderson at the University of Virginia. “He adds a lot of value obviously with his size, his length, his defensive ability. I think offensively he’s extremely talented as well. He provides another talented player that’s able to help us on both ends of the floor. His sort of MO from the moment he’s gotten to the NBA is just being a physical presence that is able to make a difference on the defensive end but then offensively just crashing the boards, crashing the glass, little intangible stuff, hustle type plays, he adds all of that and just a great guy to have around, great guy to have in the locker room.”

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