As some of you may have noticed last night, Tristan Thompson did not sign his $6.8 million qualifying offer from the Cavaliers. This can be construed in about a billion different ways, but in practice, it means he won't be hitting unrestricted free agency next season, barring a very unlikely one-year deal.
In the short term, it transforms his fairly standard restricted free agency into the dreaded holdout. He won't be a part of the roster, play at camp or suit up for games until he's signed a new deal.
As many have noted, this can play out one of three ways.
First, Thompson could sign a contract with another team that the Cavaliers would have the rights to match. Some Cavs fans may remember Noted Folk Hero Anderson Varejao's contract holdout that went into December in 2007. That ended when he finally agreed to a deal with the then-Bobcats for less money than the Cavaliers originally offered. The Cavaliers, still retaining restricted free agency rights, matched the offer, and Andy has remained a Cavalier since.
This would be, in a way, sort of ideal. Instead of bidding against themselves, the Cavaliers can let the market dictate how much Thompson should be paid. Unfortunately for Thompson, only two teams can really afford to pay anything close to what he wants, those two teams being Portland and Philadelphia. Neither team seems to have much interest in paying Thompson as much as he wants, or presumably they'd have offered already. If they're trying to get a deal, that's no good for them either, as the Cavaliers would likely just match.
The second option would be to hold out deep into the season and play chicken with the Cavaliers. Thompson can hold out until the next restricted free agency cycle begins on March 1st, but in terms of leverage, this wouldn't do him much good. He is tossed directly back into restricted free agency as long as the Cavaliers extend another qualifying offer, and he misses out on a year of earnings while hoping the cap boom will allow him to recoup that cash with a full max contract.
The only way this really works out for Tristan is if the Cavaliers take an absolute nosedive without him. While he's important to the team, you'd think that Cleveland could theoretically hide him for a while with a big man rotation of Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, James Jones, Sasha Kaun and Anderson Varejao. It wouldn't be ideal, but I doubt that they'd suddenly become a sub-.500 team as a result. This strategy is the least likely to me because of how little leverage Thompson has to work with.
Finally, Tristan could, y'know, sign a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This would officially end the most weirdly contentious social media saga of all time (except for the several months of complaining about whatever figure is finally reached.) Ryan Mourton's posited the theory that if the Cavaliers and Thompson weren't already close on a deal, he would have signed the QO, and the optimist in me thinks that makes a fair amount of sense. Holding out simply doesn't allow for many options, so unless Rich Paul and Thompson are painfully misinformed (which I doubt,) they wouldn't walk into a holdout lightly.
The Cavaliers own a ton of leverage now, but based on the reaction on social media, I'd caution getting too gleeful about having TT over a barrel. I've seen some suggest that the Cavaliers should halve their offer to Thompson, or at least brutally trim it down, but I can't really see that happening.
Basically, if you're hoping for a 6-year, $6 million dollar deal, I would temper those expectations (mostly because that contract isn't legal in the CBA, are you crazy man?)
I'd be shocked if Thompson didn't end up signing for at least $15 million per year. There might be some bending on the years and money, but my guess he'll be well compensated going into the season, and the Cavaliers core will stick together for this year at least.
And just in case you've been Stockholm Syndrome-d into enjoying all the bickering, we'll all get to scream at each other about Timofey Mozgov next summer. At least he isn't a restricted free agent.