Tristan Thompson Has Two Options

Cleveland has done a good job of keeping their own free-agents in house as they re-signed LeBron James, Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert. The last big fish in the Cavs free-agent quartet is Tristan Thompson who had a break-out year in 2014-15, particularly in the NBA playoffs.

Thompson played 37 minutes in the playoffs, scoring 10 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, four of them offensive rebounds. In the NBA Finals he averaged 13 rebounds, five of them offensive rebounds. On the largest stage, in the biggest moments, Tristan Thompson left his mark on the game and accordingly he wants to be rewarded with a new contract.

But, his leverage for the deal he wants is slipping away. He is a restricted free agent and his market value is determined by a team who signs him to an offer sheet. But, no other team is going to do that. They know Cleveland will match any offer so it’s a useless exercise with its only redeeming value pushing Cleveland towards a $75 million dollar tax bill. In the absence of a team out there willing to create the market for Thompson, David Griffin and the Cavs are waiting it out like a storm they expect to pass, without doing much damage.

The Cavs can, and probably have, negotiated a lower than max contract for Thompson. Thompson has refused. It was the Eric Bledsoe strategy of last year that was resolved in October. But the Suns panicked and the Cavaliers don’t have to. The Cavs are testing how much Thompson values security over maximum dollars.

The qualifying offer for Tristan Thompson is $7 million dollars. If he and the Cavs can’t come to a meeting of the minds then he’ll play in 2015-16 for one year at $7 million and then in the summer of 2016 he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in a year when salaries are expected to explode.

But, is Thompson shrewd enough to beat the Cavs at their own mind game and take the qualifying offer even though it is only for one year? Some players crave security and want a four year deal sealed up, even at a lesser value. Others are risk takers and will play the odds, knowing a huge payday and possible revenge is on the table after a one year qualifying offer contract is up.

The Cavs (and all NBA teams) think they can mend fences. Disgruntled players pissed over soured contract negotiations during a playoff year can be pacified once they have the taste of success or so the thinking goes.

The Cavaliers, barring catastrophic injury, are slotted for the Eastern Conference Finals with a return to the NBA Finals a distinct possibility. Would Tristan Thompson turn down a four year $80 million dollar Paul Millsap-like deal in 2016 because he was pissed the Cavs wouldn’t offer him the maximum amount in 2015?

Thompson is a specialist. He’s not going to drop 20 in a game. He’s not going to be the star of any team. But he is that worker in the paint ala Ben Wallace that will save possessions, create foul problems and change the texture of the game with his defense. He may not be the Cavs best player but he is one of their most important players.

It’s hard to see any scenario where he walks away from a team with LeBron James on it. That would be like walking away from a lottery ticket. Playing with LeBron James is an opportunity to compete on a national stage year in and year out, a privilege very few NBA players get.

Thompson’s game fits with the Cavs like it fits with no other team and the Cavs know it. They also know all the free agent money has been spent. There are no teams out there that can take on a Tristan Thompson max deal without a sign and trade which would mean giving up offensive players.

So it’s Cleveland or Cleveland. Take a lesser deal or accept the qualifying offer. Thompson has to decide: compromise now and take less money. Or, chart an entirely different course that may separate him from the Cavs altogether, beginning in 2016.


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