Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers were reportedly near a five-year, $80 million contract.
Then, they weren’t.
Was the report inaccurate? Did the Cavaliers pull the offer? Did Thompson back out?
Thompson and the Cavaliers had reached an agreement early in free agency that was believed to have been centered on a five-year deal worth some $80 million. The problem with doing a deal at that number is that virtually everyone in Thompson’s talent range got substantially more, most receiving the NBA maximum salary, some for less years, but most for the same year one dollar amount.
Thompson’s camp pulled back from the $80 million number, wanting the Cavs to step up with more based on what virtually everyone else in Thompson’s peer range got.
I’m not sure who Thompson considers his peers, but I place him solidly behind Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Draymond Green, Brook Lopez, Paul Millsap and Tim Duncan in the next group of big-man free agents.
Does that warrant more than the $16 million per season the Cavaliers reportedly offered?
Here’s how much other free agents in the tier will get annually, using data from Basketball Insiders:
- Enes Kanter: $17,515,007 (four years, $70,060,028)
- Robin Lopez: $13,503,875 (four years, $54,015,500)
- Tyson Chandler: $13,000,000 (four years, $52,000,000)
- Thaddeus Young: $12,500,000 (four years, $50,000,000)
- Amir Johnson: $12,000,000 (two years, $24,000,000)
- Omer Asik: $10,595,505 (five years, $52,977,525)
- Kosta Koufos: $8,219,750 (four years, $32,879,000)
- Ed Davis: $6,666,667 (three years, $20,000,000)
- Brandan Wright: $5,709,880 (three years, $17,129,640)
- Jordan Hill: $4,000,000 (one year, $4,000,000)
Thompson might think he’s in the same group as Monroe (three-year max contract) and Green (five years, $82 million), but he’s not as good as those two. They deserve to be paid more than Thompson.
But deserve has only so much to do with it.
Thompson holds major leverage. If he takes the qualifying offer and leaves next summer, the Cavaliers won’t have the cap flexibility to find a comparable replacement. They can sign Thompson only because they have his Bird rights. That won’t be the case with outside free agents.
The Thunder were in the same boat with Kanter, which is why they matched his max offer sheet from the Trail Blazers. Thompson should point to that situation for comparison. The Cavaliers, though, would probably tell Thompson to bring them an offer sheet, like Kanter did with Oklahoma City.
But Thompson has even more leverage. He shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron James. Cleveland surely wants to keep LeBron happy, and LeBron wants Thompson back.
Thompson might get more than $80 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got his max ($94,343,125 over five years). It just won’t be because his on-court peers all got that much. The max-level free agents – with the exception of Kanter – are a class above in actual ability.
But that Kanter comparison works for Thompson, and he and Paul should hammer it until the Cavaliers relent. No need to bring up that Kanter signed well after Thompson’s talks with Cleveland broke down. This is only minimally a discussion about logic and production.
It’s mostly about leverage, and no matter what flawed viewpoints got us here, Thompson still has leverage.