Former LSU basketball star Marcus Thornton struck out in his first at-bat in a charity softball game Friday night, but he figures to get an extra-base hit once NBA free agency begins.
Thornton, who was traded from the New Orleans Hornets to Sacramento in February, blossomed with the Kings. After not starting any of the 46 games in which he played with the Hornets, Thornton started 23 of his 27 games with Sacramento, and his minutes per game jumped from 16.2 to 38.1.
He took advantage of the opportunity by raising his scoring average from 7.8 to 21.3, his rebounding from 2.8 to 4.7, and his assists from 0.9 to 3.4. His shooting improved also as field goal percentage went from 41.0 to 45.0 and his free-throw percentage went from 75.8 to 80.5, though his 3-point percentage dropped slightly from 37.6 to 36.1.
“(The Kings) showed an interest in me when nobody else did at the trading deadline,” Thornton said before participating in the Celebrity/Sorta Celebrity Softball game. “I appreciate them every day for that, for giving me an opportunity to play. I just tried to seize the moment.”
Thornton said his end-of-season visit with coach Paul Westphal went well, but he doesn’t know exactly what the Kings’ plans are for him because he can’t speak with the organization during the lockout.
“That’s the hardest part,” Thornton said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. I hope they come to an agreement and get it over with so we can get back to playing basketball, the thing we love to do.”
Thornton’s rookie contract, which he signed after Miami drafted him in the second round of the 2009 draft and traded him to New Orleans, expired at the end of June. He would be a restricted free agent under the terms of the old collective bargaining agreement, but there’s no way of knowing what that will mean under the new one.
In the meantime, Thornton said he’s doing pretty much the same things he would have been doing during a normal offseason - lifting weights and shooting jumpers. He’s been working out locally with two other former Tigers in the NBA - Tyrus Thomas (Charlotte) and Brandon Bass (Orlando).
“I’m just staying in shape,” Thornton said, “and whenever the lockout ends, I’ll be ready.”
Thornton said there’s no way to anticipate where he might end up next season.
“I’m looking for a team that is really interested in me,” he said, “a team where I can go in and help them win right away.”
Thornton had a solid rookie season with the Hornets, starting 17 of 73 games and averaging 14.5 points in 25.6 minutes. But he never found a consistent role under new coach Monty Williams last season.
“Everything was good,” Thornton said. “It’s a business in the NBA. I was shocked because New Orleans is just like Baton Rouge, it’s my home, but I knew things like that go down in the NBA.”
The trade of Thornton brought forward Carl Landry to New Orleans, which proved to be a good acquisition after David West suffered a season-ending knee injury with 10 games left in the regular season. That made Landry a starter and key player during the Hornets’ stretch run.
“It was a great opportunity for me, and it was great opportunity for Carl too, to step in and play right away,” Thornton said. “I think it worked out for both players.”
Thornton wouldn’t rule out a return to New Orleans in free agency, but he said every team is a theoretical possibility.