Tristan Thompson Approaching Midnight

It’s almost midnight for Tristan Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Will the Cavs add more meat to their five year $80 million offer? Thompson and his representatives are asking for $94 million, the full maximum salary and so far have been met with resistance. Soon, Thompson has to figure out what exactly he is willing to accept. Less money, more security, a long term future in Cleveland? Or a one year $7 million dollar deal and free agency in 2016 as he makes good on his threat to turn his back on the Cavaliers organization and go elsewhere.

The $14 million gap between the two sides in this war of the privileged is still stuck in cement with neither side budging nor offering a white flag, as reported by Brian Windhorst of ESPN. As always happens with conflicts over money, when these things drag on for a long time the word “fair” pops up in the language as if it is “fair” to even discuss numbers so abstract most of us cannot even comprehend why Thompson is offended by what he is being offered, when, as Brian Windhorst correctly pointed out, the $80 million was a similar figure of Draymond Green, Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas. It’s slightly more than what Eric Bledsoe, another Rich Paul client, received last year.

Want to start a fight- then go into a bar and say Tristan Thompson is a max player, that he should get paid like an All-Star when he’s never been an All-Star, that he should get paid like a NBA champion when he is not a NBA champion. Thompson is a great offensive rebounder, a good defensive rebounder, a below average free throw shooter, an improving mid range shooter, great at put backs and dunks. His value is in the small things he does on the floor that don’t have a stat sheet line. But he’s asking for Kevin Love money when he’s not Kevin Love and that is supposed to make logical sense.

This is where it all gets particularly confused. What is Thompson’s value? And what is his worth?

Thompson’s value- any player’s value- is in basketball terms only, what he offers the Cavaliers with his hustle, rebounding, effort and defensive skill around the basket. It is what is unique and singular about him.

Playing with LeBron James elevated Thompson’s on-court confidence and his aggression. But translating that into his worth is complicated. Thompson isn’t offensive enough to ever be an All-Star. He is a glue guy, someone you need to win a title but the Cavs have players returning that do the same exact thing. Anderson Varejao is a rebounder, extraordinary effort player and aggressive in the paint. Kevin Love is a talented scorer and rebounder. So it’s not as if the Cavs cupboard is bare which is the entire point as far as the Cavaliers see this bridge to nowhere.

The Cavs are betting on two things, playing as they are with house money. One: they will win a NBA title and Thompson wouldn’t have the nerve to leave a championship team and if he did leave, that alone would affix certain character traits about Thompson in terms of his competitive drive. And two, more importantly, LeBron James brings people together, he doesn’t drive them away. A championship season with James would be impossible to turn your back on considering the teams offering Thompson max money aren’t better than the Cavs.

But there is one more calculation no one is talking about regarding Tristan Thompson, at this eleventh hour. It is the elephant in the room. What if we have it all backwards? What if all Tristan Thompson cares about is the money? What if the possibility of winning a title doesn’t rise to the level of greatest moment in his basketball career? What if it is just about getting paid and this song and dance is to get the most money he can get? What if excellence to LeBron James means bringing a NBA title to Cleveland for the first time ever. And what if excellence to Tristan Thompson means bringing $100 million dollars to his wallet for the first time ever?

Everyone doesn’t want the same thing, despite the popular fixation on having it all. In athletic terms, what does having it all mean? Money? Glory? Fame? Championships? Our motivations are our motivations and no one can superimpose their personal wants, desires and values upon someone else. The if that was me argument falls flat. It isn’t you. It isn’t. It may be Thompson’s dream to be a $100 million dollar player at the expense of team goals and connectivity.

We’ll find out soon enough as this waiting game is about to reach a conclusion and then it will be apparent what Tristan Thompson values in his NBA career. If he refuses the Cavs offer and leaves Cleveland next summer in a divorce, runs to the Raptors or someone just as insignificant, Tristan Thompson will be who we thought he was all along when he rejected $80 million dollars.

photo via llananba