Tristan Thompson is Gambling Again in Contract Talks

Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson turned down a four-year, $52 million extension offer last offseason, and in doing so, bet on himself that he’d earn a bigger offer this summer. That gamble paid off, as Thompson proved his worth throughout much of the postseason when he stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Kevin Love.

Now Thompson is gambling again.

It initially looked like Thompson was going to come to an agreement on a new five-year contract worth around $80 million with Cleveland. But talks broke down and have remained at an impasse over the last month. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst revealed Monday that Thompson is holding out for a five-year max contract worth about $94 million, something the Cavaliers are hesitant to pay.

And if Cleveland doesn’t pay up, Thompson, or at the very least his agent, Rich Paul (also LeBron’s agent), is threatening that he’ll take the $6.78 million qualifying offer and bolt as an unrestricted free agent next summer:

If Thompson hit unrestricted free agency next summer, there would be plenty of teams with gobs of cap space possibly willing to make a big offer thanks to the large bump in salary cap. A five-year max deal next summer will likely be worth around $120 million, and since the free-agent pool isn’t all that enticing, Thompson very well could get a max or near-max deal (which could be a questionable move at best depending on the team).

The Cavaliers could very well be a team that offers Thompson that mammoth deal next summer when the luxury tax penalties wouldn’t be as large for them, but if we’re to believe this threat, he’s gone no matter what. But should we really believe it?

Would Thompson really say so long to LeBron and perennial title contention even if Cleveland came to the table next summer with an offer to his liking? Even with Love in place as the starter, Thompson has an important role and will get plenty of minutes no matter what moving forward. That role could get even bigger if Timofey Mozgov leaves in free agency next summer.

So even if the Cavaliers didn’t pay up this summer, they can do it next summer while offering plenty of playing time on a title contender. That’s why it’s hard to completely believe this threat, as much as Rich Paul wants Cleveland to believe it. It simply seems like a classic negotiating tactic, and Paul is no stranger to playing hardball (see Eric Bledsoe‘s contract negotiations last summer).

This leaves the Cavaliers with a couple of options. They could play hardball themselves and dare Thompson to take the qualifying offer and leave next summer. This would save Cleveland a ton of money this summer and force the big man to prove himself again on the court next year, although this could create some acrimony between the two parties (and possibly LeBron).

The other extreme side is the Cavaliers simply caving in and giving Thompson that five-year, $94 million max deal now. People could argue for days over whether Thompson is actually “worth” that to Cleveland, but with the cap going up, it’s not completely unreasonable considering what he showed last year. This would lock up a solid young player long term and provide some insurance against Mozgov leaving and more Love injuries.

The most reasonable outcome is the two sides meeting somewhere in the middle of $80 million and $94 million. This way, the Cavaliers get their man and save a little coin by not giving a max deal, while Thompson gets his security and a contract worth more than Draymond Green, who has more value to the Golden State Warriors than Thompson does to Cleveland.

We’ll see if the two sides can be reasonable.

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