So the Tristan Thompson saga has finally come to a close, resulting in him signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers for $82 million over five years. Admittedly those numbers seem steep for an undersized center that isn't yet a starter, but for those that have watched him develop over the past few seasons and how well he fit on this Cavs roster, it was obvious how valuable to the team he truly was.
Before we get into what to expect from Thompson moving forward, we need to tackle the dollar value of this contract and truly put it in perspective. The salary cap is projected to be at about $94 million dollars moving forward, his initial asking price of $94 million over five years was the maximum 20 percent of the cap he was allowed to ask for. Thompson will now receive $16.4 million a year from the Cavs, working out to around 17.4 percent of the projected cap. The cap is determined by net revenue of the league and the players get paid a negotiated percentage of that cap, so when the league undergoes a dramatic increase in the cap as it is about to, the only way to properly compare deals is by comparing values by what percentage of the cap they were negotiated under.
Tristan's 17.4 percent under the cap of $63.2 million would be $10,840,200 a year. Which would put him in about this range if we are using last year's salaries:
|Al Horford, PF||$12,000,000|
|Nicolas Batum, SF||$11,765,500|
|Ty Lawson, PG||$11,595,506|
|Andrea Bargnani, C||$11,500,000|
|DeAndre Jordan, C||$11,440,123|
|Tyreke Evans, SG||$11,265,416|
|JaVale McGee, C||$11,250,000|
|Larry Sanders, C||$11,000,000|
|Danilo Gallinari, SF||$10,854,850|
|Stephen Curry, PG||$10,629,213|
|Marcin Gortat, C||$10,434,782|
|Tim Duncan, PF||$10,361,446|
|Gerald Wallace, SF||$10,105,855|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG||$10,100,000|
|Jrue Holiday, PG||$9,904,495|
Although that ignores that this season his contract will be under a cap of 70 million dollars. His $16.4 million is 23.4 percent of this years cap. So his true average works out to $11,952,160 when you weight it to the salary caps he is playing under.
Ignoring the obvious outlier in Stephen Curry, this salary range seems about right for Thompson; who was only 23 years old for the bulk of last season and has plenty of opportunity to continue to grow and improve as a player.
That being said, my official grade for the deal would be: B+
Thompson clearly caved after he backed himself into a corner with little to no leverage. I think this is a deal that both sides can feel happy about, but in applying a grade I'm not going to act like the whole process wasn't a distraction for a team and an unnecessary headache. I think it's possible that this deal could be a slight overpay for his services, or it ends up looking like a bargain in two to three years. It depends on how much growth Thompson shows as a player, but with little cap flexibility even if they were to let him walk, it's a safe gamble.
While we are on the subject of Thompson's growth, what he will need to do to earn this contract and prove that he's worth close to what he was initially asking for will be dependent on his growth defensively. Already a solid pick and roll defender capable of switching on to multiple positions, he is a poor rim protector and hasn't yet proven to make a positive impact on the defensive side of the floor. Despite his publicly maligned offensive repertoire, he was a net positive last season because of how much better the Cavs were offensively with him. The Cavs received a boost to their ORtg of 3.6, but a dip of 0.7 to their DRtg when he was on the court. The assumption that the Cavs were better defensively with Thompson in instead of Love is largely misguided, as the Cavs DRtg was a full 3 points better with Love on the court.
Of course Thompson isn't here to compete with Love for minutes, he saw the bulk of his minutes at center last season and his growth as a center will continue to be the thing that defines how valuable he is. Improving his rim protection and continuing to add size and strength to deal with larger centers will be crucial to his continued growth defensively. A players age 24 through 26 seasons are typically where we see them blossom into the defensive player they are. It takes a tremendous amount of time to understand everything that is required of a big man defensively along with developing the physical maturity to go out an execute it. Not missing any actual games is a good start for Thompson as he won't be playing catch up, but we will closely monitor his defensive growth as the season progresses.