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Tristan Thompson is Worth the Max for Some, Not All, Teams

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Tristan Thompson is making the mean streets of Twitter become an unsafe place for those who like to talk the shooty hoops. This has happened because Thompson turned down an $80 million deal made from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oh, and it being a Saturday morning during the preseason. Not much else for #basketballtwitter to debate about.

Here’s some of the origin of this story. It started by Matt Moore discussing this rationally, then coming under attack from folks who think Tristan Thompson has the value of a bag of air:

I tend to agree — partly — with Moore. In my humble opinion, deciding a player’s worth in terms of how much should be financially invested in him is relative.

What I mean by this is simple, really. Tristan Thompson as a max player on a good-to-great team is a solid idea. As long as he’s not putting the franchise in salary cap purgatory, is hanging around as the team’s fourth best player and isn’t expected to be an actual super-duper-star, it’s all cool beans with me. He brings a ton to the table which isn’t as sexy to see in the box score, but he is good. Very good.

However, if a lesser team were to give Thompson that sort of monetary commitment, then it isn’t as cool as a cucumber on the opposite side of the pillow. At least not rationally.

Thompson is a good and still very much developing player. Yet, for the same reasons I’d be totally smiles and giggles if a contender were to sign him to a massive deal is part of the reason why I wouldn’t be able to turn my frown upside down if he were acquired by a team like the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’s only a theory I have. One that, admittedly, has its flaws. It’s this: Bad teams signing good but limited players to excessive deals prevents growth for both parties involved for two reasons.

  1. The team, who’s designated as awful in this theory, becomes only slightly better. Just good enough to not be bad enough to acquire a decent enough pick in the NBA Draft to get better. Unless that franchise’s front office has the ability to get better through signing other free-agents — and why should we expect them to since they’re horrible in the first place — makes the move counterproductive. It’s essentially the opposite approach of the Sam Hinkie plan — which, ugh, yes…I’m fully on board with (still).
  2. The player will get a bad rap for things out of his control. Thompson wouldn’t be at fault if he were on the Sixers and they continued to be, well, the Sixers. He would still be as good as before, while getting better, but everyone would point and giggle at the guy for going after something he earned (money) because the team would continue to be an abomination despite his arrival.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is the value Thompson has for good teams. You know, like the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs would never have to ask Thompson to be anything other than he is. If he were to continue to develop into another-worldly type of player while under contract, it’d simply be extra points as far as they were concerned. Thompson’s strengths — rebounds, defense, potential (which is a strength) — would all be able to flourish in Cleveland’s system while masking his flaws because they have a solid roster.

The same simply can’t be said if he were to go to a bad team. Other players, not merely Thompson, fit into this weird “max-level guys who I’d like on some rosters as max guys, but not others” thing I have going on. Draymond Green is another player I’ve felt similarly about. They both “deserve” to get max deals, because that’s what the market dictates, but as a person who’s looking at best roster situations, I “prefer” their max talents on some rosters more than others.

It simply comes down to value. How much value does a max Tristan Thompson have on Cleveland compared to a max Thompson on Philly/[insert non-contender here]? It’s my stance that he has great value on a contender, yet actually makes a situation worse — yes, worse — for a bad team.

Everything in sports is relative. Relatively speaking, of course Tristan Thompson is going to get his because he has that sort of talent. However, it doesn’t mean it has to sit pretty with everyone. Each differing situation will alter how we view the investment the team made by giving him that lucrative of a deal.

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