Tuesday 18th June 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

Putting Tristan Thompson’s $82 Million Deal in Perspective

Tristan Thompson Cavaliers

It’s finally over.

For real this time.

After months of rumors and speculation and recycled reports reiterating that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson were at a contractual impasse, the two sides hammered out a five-year, $82 million deal. Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group was the first to relay the news:

As Haynes would go on to note, Thompson’s deal now gives the Cavaliers two of the NBA’s highest paid power forwards, the other being Kevin Love:

As ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst would go on to point out, the Cavaliers have now invested a not-so-small fortune in trying to get LeBron James his third championship ring:

That insanely high luxury-tax bill can warp perception of Thompson’s new deal. So, too, can the fact that, in a vacuum, Thompson isn’t worth $82 million. That’s superstar money, even in this brave, new, expensive salary-cap climate. And while other teams have taken star-level gambles over the offseason (think along the lines of Tobias Harris with the Orlando Magic), Thompson doesn’t have “future star” plastered across his forehead. Plus, for the record, not all of those free-agent gambles were smart (Enes Kanter).

Still, the Cavaliers aren’t necessarily paying Thompson for what he can do on the basketball court. He’s a sensational offensive rebounder who, despite being listed at 6’9″, can play some center. He’s not a stout defender, but he can defend. He doesn’t have a jump shot, but he’s an excellent pick-and-roll dive guy. All of that is not worth $82 million…outside of Cleveland.

The Cavaliers couldn’t spend that $82 million on anyone else, not now, not next summer. They were capped to the moon even before factoring in Thompson’s raise, so at best, they would have been left to pick up some spare parts that could coalesce into a whole player over the next few summers.

Beyond that, the Cavaliers are paying Thompson for what he will never be: a star. It’s weird, I know. Thompson doesn’t have the typical superstar game. But perhaps he could evolve. Maybe, given more touches and minutes and a bigger role, he could become a superstar. We’ll never know, and neither will he. Not in Cleveland.

And that’s the point.

This is essentially the James Harden paradox. Thompson isn’t on the same plane, but the Cavaliers need to pay him for the sacrifice he’s making, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s conceding anything at all. The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t offering Harden superstar money or a superstar role, so the marriage dissolved.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has given Thompson superstar money, which makes the reality of him knowing that he will never be an actual superstar on this Cavaliers team easier to accept and transcend.

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