There are reports that Tristan Thompson won’t resign in Cleveland for less than the max. As it stands right now, Thompson is slated to sign the one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer with the Cavs. This will be a significant underpayment for Thompson, something the Cavaliers are able to leverage because of his restricted free agent status. Because the Cavaliers can match any offers made to Thompson by other teams, the rest of the league refrained from making offers to Thompson knowing the Cavs would simply match it.
Interestingly enough, it looks like Cleveland’s need of Thompson might be the reason he’ll have to wait for his big payday. Without Thompson, the Cavs are severely lacking in frontcourt depth with no cap space to sign a replacement. If faced with a max offer sheet to Thompson, they’d be forced to sign it, and the rest of the league knows this.
If an organization truly wants to acquire Tristan Thompson, they’re better off letting him sign the qualifying offer this year and going after him next season in free agency. There are talks of Thompson going to Toronto next offseason, and they’re exactly the type of team who would have to wait another year before they can sign a big free agent.
Toronto doesn’t have the cap space to sign Thompson this year, (in fact only Philadelphia and Portland have the cap space to offer a max-contract to Thompson) but when the cap goes up next year with the new TV deal, several teams will have a lot of cap space looking to sign free agents, and the Raptors could definitely be in the mix to sign Thompson.
Whether the Raptors can sign him or not depends on how much the cap increases, DeMar DeRozan’s decision to exercise or forgo his player option, and the restricted free agency of Terrence Ross. However, if the Raptors are truly focused on acquiring Tristan Thompson, they can likely move the pieces around to fit him into the roster.
Thompson would likely be an upgrade over Patrick Patterson and would help solidify the Raptors’ lineup if they can maneuver their salary cap without losing major contributors. The other benefit of signing Thompson to a long-term deal is that the Raptors would be doing so early in his career. Thompson is only 24, and will be only five years into his career next offseason. Thompson hitting unrestricted free-agency sooner in his career than most players allows his new team to avoid having to sign him to his second big contract in his thirties, something that would be very appealing if Thompson turns into a star.
The reality, though, is that Thompson is not a star yet, and he is not worth the same level of investment as the truly elite superstars. But with Toronto’s struggles to draw in free agents in the past, they might have to overpay for a player like Tristan Thompson. However, he does offer the potential to improve that is usually pretty rare in older unrestricted free agents.
Right now a max deal for Thompson would cost roughly $18 million on average annually. Next year that number will be over $20 million. Turning down the 5-year, $80 million dollar deal offered is a bit of a gamble for Thompson. He’s betting on himself, his health, and his position in the market next offseason. If he finds Toronto waiting for him with a max-deal, that gamble will have paid off.