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2023-24 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview: Tristan Thompson

“Double T” returns to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a different place than when he left.

Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After three seasons of bouncing around the NBA, Tristan Thompson is returning to the team that drafted him in 2011. The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Thompson to a non-guaranteed one-year deal at the veteran minimum, bringing back a key piece from the 2016 championship run. While Thompson is not the same player he was then, there are other ways he can contribute to the current team.

Name: Tristan Thompson

Position: Center

Age: 32

Height: 6’9”

Weight: 254

2022-23 stats: N/A

While Thompson did not record any regular season stats last season, he did play in six playoff games with the Los Angeles Lakers. Thompson was largely inconsequential, only soaking up scant minutes to give Anthony Davis a breather. For the Cavaliers, expect Thompson to be more of the same. He will likely be subbing in during garbage time or to give one of the bigs a rest.

Thompson can still be a serviceable interior defender and rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass. For his career, Thompson has averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds per game. Even in his last regular season (21-22), Thompson averaged 1.8 offensive rebounds per game — which would have been third-highest on the Cavs last year. Despite a two-big lineup, the Cavs were not a tremendous rebounding team last year (25th in rebounds per game) despite having both a top-ten offense (seventh in the NBA) and defense (first in the NBA). One of the strengths of Thompson over his career has been his ability to get good positioning on boards, something the Cavs did a very poor job of in the postseason. Being a dedicated rebounding coach for Allen and Mobley would not be the worst thing in the world.

The real value for Thompson will likely come off the court in the locker room. Cleveland has a young roster, particularly the core of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Mobley, and Allen. That group looked wide-eyed in the playoffs last season, with Allen going so far as to say that the spotlight was a little too bright. Thompson has been through the playoff meat-grinder numerous times and has the reputation of being a tough player who plays with intensity and above his size. Last season against the New York Knicks, the Cavs’ bigs were out-hustled - something that can not happen again if Cleveland hopes to escape the first round of the playoffs.

It is tough to expect anything significant from Thompson this upcoming season. After all, he worked in the ESPN studio before being brought to the Lakers for the postseason run. At 32-years-old he is not the young, rim-running big who gobbles up rebounds at the clip he once did. But he does fill a need on the roster as a backup big, something the Cavs sorely lacked last season. Robin Lopez, while jovial and a walking meme, was very clearly not capable of playing even one second in the postseason — and he looked cooked for most of the regular season too. Thompson is certainly not in his prime, but he demonstrated that for a handful of minutes, he can stand his ground in the post, box out for a few boards, and make a smart pass or two in around 5-7 postseason minutes while being an innings eater in the regular season.

Seeing Thompson sport the wine and gold again will be nostalgic. Even if he’s not earing No. 13 anymore. Certainly, his best seasons were in Cleveland, and everything after that has been largely forgettable. The Cavs needed a veteran, someone who has seen winning inside and out, and a connector for the young guys on the roster.

Think of Thompson in the same vein as what Udonis Haslem was to the Miami Heat — a presence that brings the pieces together in the locker room. It was sort of what Kevin Love brought to the team last year before being bought out. Thompson is not as playable as Love was, but maybe that’s okay. He’s hear to be the active voice on a young roster, hold players accountable and eat some minutes when needed.