Projecting Tristan Thompson's Future Salary Cap Impact

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing potential long-term consequences of a fat new contract for the Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson.

One of the most consistently divisive topics of discussion on Fear The Sword, the way to approach Tristan Thompson's impending Restricted Free Agency, is something that could have major long-term repercussions for the Cleveland Cavaliers' organization, both financially, and with regard to on-court results. Viewpoints on this issue are all over the board, and solid points can be made on both sides of the fence. Let's look primarily at the (mostly) objective aspects of a potential deal.

Much has been made of the highly-publicized rumor (and I emphasize, it is exactly that - a rumor) that Tristan turned down a 4-year, $52 million contract offer prior to the October 31st deadline for re-signing players headed into their fourth season. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Thompson's a rebounder, a defender, an energy guy. He isn't a starter on a playoff team, but he has a good attitude, a good motor and could be a role player anywhere in the NBA. Paul isn't the first agent to leverage a more prominent client's extension against another, nor the last.

Even so, at what price? Within the NBA, officials expected maybe $10 million a year, perhaps $12 million if Klutch wanted to push it. Well, they kept pushing it. Thompson turned down a $13 million-a-year extension offer – four-years, $52 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

This obviously elicited strong reactions from every corner of the basketball world - from national reporters, to sports radio talking heads, to casual fans who spend most of their non-existent lives yelling at random strangers on blogs across the internet. Granted, $13M per season sounds like an awful lot for a player of Thompson's current caliber, but there are other factors to consider:

  • Tristan turns 24 years old in two days, on March 13th (which also happens to be Friday the 13th - be careful when you're out celebrating, Tris!). 24-year-old big men are rarely finished products, and he has shown steady, if modest, improvement throughout his career.
  • The Cavaliers will already be above the salary cap threshold this summer, with or without Thompson. Their only avenues to acquiring a replacement would be trades (with Brendan Haywood's contract and future 1st round picks as their best assets), salary cap exceptions, and veteran minimum contracts. Keep in mind, Shawn Marion and possibly a few other small contributors will also need to be replaced. This makes holding onto Thompson that much more important.
  • The salary cap is getting ready to skyrocket in the summer of 2016. According to this analysis by Dan Feldman of NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk, the cap could immediately soar past $87 million, and continue rising incrementally after that.

So, for the sake of quantifying a hypothetical, let's use the PBT projections for the salary cap, and the reported $52M, 4-year contract to determine Tristan's potential impact on the Cavs' financial future.

An annual salary of $13M for 2015-16 would comprise about 19.6% of a team's available cap room. This is a rather significant allocation for a player with TT's production and ability. It would put him in the same salary range as other big men like Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Derrick Favors, and Andrew Bogut. Obviously, he's not currently on the same level as those players, and shouldn't be paid as such.

The 2016-17 season is when things are set to change drastically. With a projected cap number north of $87M, Tristan's cap allocation would drop all the way to 14.9%. This obviously makes his salary much more manageable - the equivalent of about $9.4M in the current NBA environment. Other bigs with a similar cap-share currently include Jordan Hill, Tiago Splitter, Thaddeus Young, and Paul Millsap. Personally, I'd rate Tristan behind Millsap, slightly behind Splitter, ahead of Young, and way ahead of Hill. He seems to fit pretty well within this band of players, and considering age and upside, it doesn't seem farfetched that he could even out-perform his salary in years 3-4 of the deal.

Obviously, things only get better for the Cavs in each subsequent season, as the proportional value of the contract decreases even further - all the way down to 13.0%, or about $8.2M in 2018-19. I doubt many of the people currently mocking this deal would be nearly as upset about paying Thompson an average annual salary of $9.7M, which is what that raw $52M comes out to based on this analysis - the equivalent of a 4-year, $38.7M contract.

So, what do you think? Has any of this influenced your opinion one way or the other? How many spelling/grammar/formatting mistakes did I make? Let me know in the comments!

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff at FearTheSword

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