Last Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors approved to resume the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World with 22 teams – the 16 playoff teams and six squads that are within six games of the eighth seed. The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the eight teams left out of this plan, bringing their 2019-20 season to an anticlimactic end.
After finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA (19-46), the Cavaliers will now shift their attention to the offseason. One key player whose future is up in the air is Tristan Thompson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 29-year-old has spent his entire nine-year NBA career in Cleveland and he was part of the 2016 championship team.
Chris Fedor, who covers the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, recently discussed Thompson’s upcoming free agency on the Wine and Gold Talk Podcast.
“My initial thought when the Cavs were excluded from the Disney plan was that Tristan had played his final game with the Cavs,” Fedor said. “So, I reached out to people on both sides of this conversation. Both sides said, ‘Slow down on that, take it easy here, you’re jumping to conclusions.’
“When I texted somebody and said, ‘Does this mean Tristan has played his final game with the Cavs?’ I got back, ‘Not necessarily.’ And I believe there’s a chance he comes back.”
Thompson is coming off one of the most productive years of his NBA career, as he averaged 12.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.9 blocks while shooting 51.2 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from three and 61.5 percent from the free-throw line.
The 29-year-old has emerged as an elite rebounder, especially when it comes to grabbing offensive boards. This season, Thompson’s 226 offensive rebounds were the third-most in the league (trailing only Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside) and his 14.5-percent offensive rebound percentage was also the third-best in the NBA (trailing only Drummond and Dwight Howard).
Apparently, Thompson likes the idea of remaining in Cleveland for his whole career.
“I think there’s also a sense that the Cavs recognize the value that Tristan Thompson brings,” Fedor added. “And Tristan being one of the greatest Cavaliers of all-time and eventually having his jersey hung and continuing to climb the ranks of the all-time Cavs is something that’s meaningful to him.”
However, it’s worth noting that Thompson’s role changed after the Cavaliers acquired Drummond at the trade deadline in February. Through the first four months of the season, Thompson was averaging 31.6 minutes per game and he started every contest that he appeared in. After the Drummond trade, he was moved to the second unit and his playing time dropped to 26.2 minutes per game.
And while he has played power forward in the past, nearly all of Thompson’s minutes were at center over the last two seasons. This season, 99 percent of his minutes were at center, and 97 percent of his minutes were at center last year.
Drummond has a player option for next season. If he opts out, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent; if he opts in, he’ll be paid $28,751,774 from the Cavs. Drummond is reportedly expected to opt in, which could have a big impact on Thompson’s situation.
As of now, the Cavaliers’ three highest-paid players for 2020-21 will all be in their frontcourt: Love will be paid $31,258,256, Drummond will be paid $28,751,774 and Larry Nance Jr. will be paid $11,709,091. With so much money already committed to bigs, would it make sense to pay Thompson what he’s worth too (especially if he’s coming off of the bench)?
Plus, Drummond has averaged more than 15 rebounds per game in each of the last three seasons and Love is a great rebounder too, so Cleveland can replace Thompson’s rebounding production (and then some), making him somewhat expendable.
Even if the Cavs want to re-sign Thompson, would he be willing to return to Cleveland if he’s just going to back up Drummond again? It’s possible that he’d want to join a team where he could start and have a bigger impact.
Not to mention, Thompson may want to sign with a win-now team instead of staying with the rebuilding Cavs. After all, he’s 29 years old and in the prime of his career. And once you’ve played on a perennial contender and won a championship, it’s hard to go back to being at the bottom of the standings.
It’s possible that Thompson re-signs with the Cavaliers and neither side is ready to definitively say that Thompson has played his last game with the Cavaliers. However, the addition of Drummond and the money committed to their frontcourt could complicate things when it comes to Thompson’s future in Cleveland.