The Cleveland Cavaliers will know Tristan Thompson‘s new $82 million contract is a success if they hear, non-stop from now through the Finals, that the backup power forward is overpaid.
Maybe not “vastly overpaid” and definitely not “outrageously overpaid.” That would suggest some dramatic under performance from what Thompson has been in his first four NBA seasons. But if Thompson winds up giving the Cavaliers something close to what they’ve been getting from him – 12.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, at adapting last season to contributing off the bench – and he merely stays tagged as “overpaid,” that will mean mostly good things for Cleveland.
It will mean that Thompson wasn’t pressed into starter’s duty by a debilitating injury again to Kevin Love. It will mean that his playing time didn’t have to jump up to the 39.1 minutes he logged over the Cavs’ final 16 playoff games after Love’s shoulder injury in the first round against Boston. It will mean that Timofey Mozgov, Anderson Varejao and (yikes!) LeBron James likely didn’t miss significant time either to thin the roster’s complement of big men.
The bottom line on Thompson’s new deal – a $2 million bump from what reportedly was discussed with the Cavs at the start of free agency – is that, if it seems a little painful to the organization’s bottom line, a bunch of basketball-related things likely will have gone right.
Here was the initial report on the end of the restricted free agent’s holdout as offered by Cavaliers beat writer Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:
The two sides agreed Wednesday to a five-year, $82 million pact, ending a lengthy stalemate that should ensure Thompson’s presence in Northeast Ohio through the deals already in place with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and, most likely, LeBron James.
Cleveland will have the highest payroll in NBA history with the signing, opening training camp next week with a commitment this year of approximately $115 million.
The dollar amount may baffle some, but Thompson earned his new contract. He bet on himself at the beginning of the 2014-15 season by turning down a four-year, $52 million extension.
Knowing he was stepping into a season in which he was Kevin Love’s backup, Thompson, advised by his agent Rich Paul, decided he was better off playing his hand at restricted free agency.
Critics mocked him for rebuffing such a lucrative offer, citing his “limited skill set.” Nevertheless, he played on and accepted his new reserve role. He was the league’s leading rebounder off the bench with 8.0 boards a night, while also continuing his streak of not missing a game in his four-year career.
Thompson led the playoffs with 88 offensive rebounds. With Love and Irving sidelined, those extra offensive possessions proved invaluable for a shorthanded Cavalier squad.
His motor on the backboards was a constant irritant to opponents. In the Finals, the Golden State Warriors decided they often had to box him out with two guys.
That helped Thompson’s resume and encouraged him and his agent to wait out the league’s Oct. 1 deadline for signing a deal or playing on a one-year qualifying offer. It seemed likely
Thompson could cash in next summer as an unrestricted free agent, shopping in a market flooded with fatter TV revenues that will send the salary cap soaring again. That would, however, almost certainly mean the end of Thompson’s days in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers will be paying dearly to make another run at the Finals in 2016 and keep the core of this championship contender together well beyond that. In addition to the $115 million payroll cited by Haynes, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported that Cleveland’s luxury-tax obligation for 2015-16 will approach $65 million. That’s a big check to write for owner Dan Gilbert and a big swallow for general manager David Griffin.
So while this sort of thing is undeniably true…
… there is the concept of insurance, and how the best policies are the ones you never actually cash in.
There’s a saying in the NFL that the most valuable player on the team is the starting quarterback and the second-most valuable player is the backup quarterback. Those guys get paid, too, even though no one really wants to see them prove their value on Sundays – that would mean the starter got hurt or stinks.
That’s how the Cavaliers and their fans need to look at Thompson’s deal now. The more he actually plays up to that $82 million figure, the more likely something else will have gone wrong in their championship plan.