October 13, 2003 -- Kurt Thomas has given his first indication he's considering opting out of his contract after the season to become a free agent.
According to a source close to Thomas, he will opt out of the final year of his contract if he has the same productive season as the past two.
When asked about becoming a free agent this summer, Thomas cracked a smile and told The Post, "I feel the contract will take care of itself. We'll find out. I'm just focusing on the season and not thinking about it."
Thomas' opt-out clause, reported in Saturday's Post, could be a factor in the Knicks' decision whether to trade him. Thomas makes a reasonable $5.4 million this season, but if he voids his $5.9M final year, it's uncertain how much he'd want, considering he was under All-Star center consideration last February.
With the Dikembe Mutombo signing that costs James Dolan $17 million ($8.5M in salary, $8.5M in luxury tax), the Knicks have 16 guaranteed contracts and need to shed one before the Oct. 29 season opener.
The Knicks, who fell to 0-4 in preseason after last night's 85-78 loss to San Antonio in Mutombo's Knick debut, still want to address the point-guard situation. Howard Eisley missed last night with a hamstring strain and has been awful (3 for 20).
If Thomas, 31, has another nice season, his decision to opt out would be a no-brainer for security. Dallas would be Thomas' first choice, sources say, and Don Nelson has admitted interest. Thomas' children still live in his native Dallas. Owner Mark Cuban would have to engineer a sign-and-trade with the Knicks or offer Thomas the $4.9M exception.
Thomas, who finished with a team-high 12 points last night, came into camp having lost 25 pounds, then declared he wasn't ready to give up his starting center's job to Mutombo.
* Mutombo got a rousing Garden ovation when he entered with 3:38 left in the half. In his 13 minutes, Mutombo surprisingly looked more aggressive on the offensive end than defensive.
The Knicks went to him two straight times in the post right away. On the first one, Mutombo's driving runner became an airball. The second time he got fouled by Rasho Nesterovic, whom the Knicks tried signing in the summer. On the third entry pass into the post, Mutombo crossed into the lane and made a pretty right-handed hook shot, drawing cheers with 26 seconds left in the half. Mutombo finished with four points, three rebounds and a block, but Tim Duncan blew by him twice for layups.
Keith Van Horn was booed for the second straight time at the Garden when he missed three straight shots in the third quarter. He finished with eight points, nine rebounds and eight turnovers.
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