It's hard to know exactly what's going on between Tristan Thompson and the Cavs. There has been little news on the Thompson front since free agency began roughly a month ago and it isn't clear as to where the two teams stand. All we really know is that something - maybe money, maybe something else - has created a gap between the two sides.
Normally, this is pretty standard in restricted free agency. A player is tendered a qualifying offer that they probably won't sign because it means that they'll be risking a ton of guaranteed money and negotiations drag out. The only thing that can speed things up is another team signing a player to an offer sheet.
With Thompson, it's hard to see what team would be willing to do that at this point in the summer. Most other teams are without the necessary cap room to sign Thompson to an offer sheet that they know will be matched. A team could, in theory, sign Thompson to a poison pill offer sheet like the Mavericks did with Chandler Parsons last summer, but the Cavs are operated and built differently than the Rockets. Frankly, there just isn't a scenario where the Cavs don't match an offer sheet.
As a result, one would think that Thompson would have no leverage in negotiations. Typically, restricted free agents don't really control where they land and, because teams know they probably won't get a player they sign to an offer sheet, they don't bother tendering offers. This drags out negotiations and benefits the team.
Thompson, though, has some leverage that few other restricted free agents have had. Due to a weird set of circumstances, Thompson can play the Cavs' game and push them to give him at least a little more of what he wants. His play? Take the qualifying offer - or at least threaten to do so.
Were he sign his qualifying offer, Thompson would make $6.7 million next season - a huge pay cut from the $15 million he is reportedly seeking. But it would allow him to enter free agency next summer at a time when the cap is going to rise by the millions, salaries are going to go way, way up and the player pool isn't all that great. Aside from Kevin Durant and Al Horford, there just aren't many good players set to be free agents in 2016. That benefits Thompson, a player who isn't a franchise player but is really good at a few specific aspects of the game. If a team can't get Durant and Horford, throwing a lot of money at players on Thompson's level is the next option.
In addition, Thompson is someone likely to stay healthy for a full year. He's played in all 82 games each of the past three seasons and didn't play every game his rookie year because he spent some time with the Canton Charge. Thompson is durable and barring something unforeseen, there's no reason to think that won't change.
It helps, too, that Thompson is extremely valuable to the Cavs. Whether he's coming off the bench as a four or playing small ball five, he fills in the gaps. He's an eliteoffensive rebounder, somewhat adequately protects the rim and does everything necessary as a complement to the Cavs' ‘Big Three' of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. There's certainly an argument to made that Thompson is more valuable to the Cavs than he would be on every other team. LeBron's relationship with Thompson has to have some sort of affect too.
In reality, Thompson is probably going to re-sign with the Cavs for a long deal worth a ton of money - players don't just leave $8 million a year on the table. It's also not a lock he'd actually make more on the open market next summer. But if negotiations continue to drag out, Thompson has a card to play. It might be the one thing that can give him leverage and help get him paid sooner.