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Tristan Thompson on contract: ‘LeBron’s not my agent. I earned my money’

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There were numerous reasons Tristan Thompson held leverage over the Cavaliers as a restricted free agent two years ago:

  • Thompson was coming into his own as a player. His defensive versatility was especially important as the NBA became more reliant on small ball, and his offensive rebounding was a dangerous weapon in that paradigm. In fact, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love injured, Thompson was probably Cleveland’s second-best player during its playoff run to the Finals.
  • He was just 24. At that age, he projected to remain productive throughout his next contract.
  • New national TV contracts were set to kick in the following year and drastically raise the salary cap. Therefore, any deals signed in the old-money environment would look cheap overnight.
  • The capped-out Cavs had no mechanism to acquire a better replacement. Whatever Thompson was worth, it was a heck of a lot more than the mid-level exception. As long as actual cost was no object — and it apparently wasn’t — Thompson’s salary wouldn’t impede salary-cap flexibility.
  • Thompson had an aggressive agent who had just guided Eric Bledsoe through a lengthy restricted free agency to a lucrative contract with the Suns the year before. The agent set an early standard of a max or near-max contract, threatened with Thompson signing the qualifying offer and promised to leave Cleveland the following year if he did and spread word of teams waiting to offer Thompson the max as an unrestricted free agent.
  • Oh, and that agent, Rich Paul, also represented LeBron James.

The result: Thompson signed a five-year, $82 million contract that was widely credited to LeBron.

Thompson, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I earned my money,” Thompson told ESPN of his five-year, $82 million extension he signed in 2015. “LeBron’s not my agent. I earned my money doing what I do; you can ask anyone around the league. I opened doors for other guys. It’s a business and you get paid what the market value is for you. I got my money and opened up doors for other guys that play hard and do the little things.”

How much influence did LeBron have on Thompson’s deal? LeBron repeatedly applied public pressure.

But one presumed threat — LeBron, who was also a free agent, waiting to sign until the Cavs took care of Thompson — never came to fruition. LeBron re-signed well before Thompson.

One report even said the Cavaliers didn’t fear LeBron leaving over Thompson’s contract, though it’s up for debate how much they were just trying to regain leverage.

We can never know LeBron’s exact involvement, because the effect might have been indirect. The Cavs obviously wanted to please LeBron and on some level, maybe even explicitly, could have viewed Thompson’s deal as a factor.

Either way, Thompson is getting paid handsomely on a contract that has become good value for Cleveland as the salary cap skyrocketed. Thompson has become the Cavaliers’ starting center, and $16.4 million is fair for a starting center.

But why is Thompson minimizing LeBron’s importance?

For one, players measure themselves by their contracts. Sure, making more money is nice. But it’s also a status symbol around the league, and Thompson doesn’t want his status undermined by the perception he didn’t earn his deal.

That’s why Thompson goes a step further and declares himself a player who opened doors for others — which would increase his prestige even further. It’s a dubious claim, though Thompson’s negotiations apparently influenced Draymond Green‘s the same year. At one point, it appeared Thompson and Cleveland neared a five-year, $80 million deal. With that as a baseline, Green reportedly agreed to a five-year, $82 million contract with the Warriors. Then, Thompson had his negotiations drag on for months. But Green probably could’ve gotten a max deal if he pushed for one. So, it’s tough to credit Thompson much here — or find other players who were paid more as a result of his success.

Another reason Thompson might be loathe to credit LeBron: LeBron implicitly besmirched Thompson by calling the Cavs top-heavy with himself, Irving and Love. How do you think that sat with Thompson?

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.

 

Frustrated fan: John McEnroe says Knicks a ‘total train wreck’

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NEW YORK (AP) — John McEnroe had a ringside seat for the ugliest bout at Madison Square Garden last season.

He was sitting just feet away when former Knicks star Charles Oakley was surrounded by security officials at his seat, shoving them away before being handcuffed and arrested while watching a game in February.

Even before that, the tennis great had begun to lose patience with his favorite team.

“It’s like a total train wreck,” McEnroe said.

The low point during a miserable 2016-17 season came when Oakley was dragged out of MSG in the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. A fan favorite as a player, he had fallen out of favor with the organization in retirement after critical comments about the team and MSG chairman James Dolan.

McEnroe, who often travels for his tennis or other obligations, wasn’t aware of the history between Oakley and Dolan.

“I didn’t even realize at the time that Charles had said bad things about him,” McEnroe said. “I hadn’t been up on that, so it wasn’t awkward for me when he sort of poked me in my back, Charles, right before the incident happened. I was like, `Hey Charles, how are you? This is my son, Kevin.’ He was with me.

“So I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and I didn’t know what had happened or really what had transpired,” he said. “So maybe Jim was already uncomfortable because of past history or whatever and then when Charles and the security guys started to go at it, even before they started to come up to him I was like, `Uh oh, this is not going to go well, at all.”‘

McEnroe is clearly visible in replays of the skirmish that were shown that night and throughout the next day.

“To see Charles Oakley have handcuffs put on him was horrible. Like, I was sick to my stomach, as well as almost every other fan that was in there watching this as it took place,” McEnroe said. “I bet you Jim Dolan – this is just my opinion – had to feel terrible about what that was.”

McEnroe grew up in and still lives in New York, and considers MSG his home arena. The inside cover of his new book, “But Seriously,” is decorated with ticket stubs from games and concerts at the arena, including a Knicks playoff game. But like many Knicks fans, he’s getting fed up with what he sees.

“I mean I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was a kid, so this is just getting beyond belief,” he said.

McEnroe has owned a home in Malibu, California, for more than 30 years. He often trained in Los Angeles as one of the world’s top players during the early-to-mid 1980s, befriending Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis, whose husband Kurt played for the great Lakers teams of that era that were led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Watching this was like, I’m sitting there going, why the hell am I a Knick fan again?” McEnroe said, “because this is just absolutely unbelievable, watching Showtime.”

Dolan hired Phil Jackson, who won five titles as Lakers coach, as Knicks president in 2014. But the team has missed the playoffs every season under Jackson, who feuded with Carmelo Anthony last season and didn’t speak to reporters at all while the team went 31-51.

“I mean, he’s known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he’s not talking to anybody,” McEnroe said of Jackson. “So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails.”

Jackson is still hoping to trade Anthony, who has a no-trade clause. McEnroe said he was never the biggest fan of Anthony’s game, but that the All-Star forward didn’t deserve the treatment he received last season.

“It’s crazy to treat a guy that way,” McEnroe said. “It seems like, even if it would be better for both guys if they weren’t there – the Knicks and him – the whole thing just seems, I can’t believe how bungled this has gotten.”

Chris Paul re-elected president of the NBPA

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NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Paul has been re-elected president of the National Basketball Players Association.

Paul’s new four-year term begins immediately. He will be assisted by the union’s newly elected vice president, Garrett Temple of the Sacramento Kings.

In his first term as president, Paul most notably helped the players and the NBA come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that goes into effect on July 1.

Paul says he’s “humbled that my fellow players have voted to have me continue.”

Temple has a three-year term as vice president, which also begins immediately. He replaces Kyle Korver in that role.

The other members of the NBA’s Executive Committee are First Vice President LeBron James, Secretary-Treasurer James Jones, and Vice Presidents Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Pau Gasol and Anthony Tolliver.