It's been a long time since we have seen Tristan Thompson on a basketball court, as the Cleveland Cavaliers were one of eight teams who weren't invited to the Orlando bubble.
Thompson enjoyed a career year with the Cavaliers, posting averages of 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He even stepped out and shot a handful of 3s in 2019-20 and judging by the videos that have surfaced on social media, he's looking to be more of a threat from long-range going forward.
Thompson is set to become an unrestricted free agent as soon as free agency begins. He could be playing somewhere other than Cleveland for the first time in his NBA career.
As a big who can defend, rebound and serve as a rim-runner, Thompson could fit on a number of teams looking to beef up their frontline. The problem is, the money is scarce this offseason for playoff and championship-contending teams.
Will Thompson be looking for another big payday or will he look to play meaningful games late in the season again?
Here are some destinations where the Canadian could make sense.
The Clippers are in an interesting scenario with Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris Sr. both unrestricted free agents this offseason. Patrick Patterson is also a UFA. Even though he gave them little-to-nothing in the bubble, the Clippers can keep Joakim Noah at $2.7 million which would be a bargain for any serviceable NBA player, and they'll keep their fingers crossed that JaMychal Green opts-in to his $5.0 million player option for next season.
LA could have all those guys back, but it could also lose some of them to free agency. If the latter is the case, this could be a good spot for Thompson to land.
The Clippers have the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to offer, per John Hollinger of The Athletic, which would be a pay cut for Thompson but maybe worth it to compete for a championship next season. Should the likes of Harrell or Morris leave, the extra minutes would be available for Thompson to fill, and he could even get some starts depending on matchups in the playoffs.
And as always, the appeal of living in LA would be there.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will welcome back healthy versions of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to the lineup next year. They'll also have Draymond Green and a full season of Andrew Wiggins ready to go. That's a lot of talent, talent that could once again find themselves competing for a championship.
If that's the case, maybe Thompson could find a spot in Golden State's lineup. The Warriors were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season, somewhere Thompson would help immediately. He'd also bolster the team's frontcourt defence that will rely heavily on Green if changes aren't made.
There are questions around this option, though. First, would Thompson be willing to take the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception? Second, could Steve Kerr play both Green and Thompson on the floor at the same time? Both of them have proven they're willing to take 3s but spacing would without question be an issue.
Finally, have Thompson and Green truly squashed their beef? Thompson said as much on an appearance on the Posted Up podcast with Chris Haynes.
"I got no problem with him," Thompson said. "We talk. We talk. It's cool. He's got a great situation there in Golden State."
Maybe it's all water under the bridge and the two could indeed work out as teammates. Thompson would also likely only be there on a one-year deal, which would give him the flexibility to be a free agent in 2021 when the league's cap situation might be in a more favourable place.
This is probably the dullest option but with the uncertainty of the cap situation in the NBA, Thompson could play it safe and stay with the franchise that drafted him.
The Cavs could offer him the best long-term deal and they do hold his bird rights, which could be beneficial for both parties.
General manager Koby Altman seemed optimistic about the potential of bringing Thompson back in September, saying there was mutual interest.
"I think it's fair to say there's mutual interest for sure," Altman said via Cleveland.com. "He's been with this franchise his entire career since we drafted him.
"He's won a championship here. Obviously, he means a lot to the players on the team right now, but it has to make sense. There are some events coming up - the draft, free agency - where we have to see if it makes sense for him. He's earned the right to be an unrestricted free agent and explore opportunities at this point in his career. So, we'll see."
The Cavs aren't anywhere near contending for a championship with the pieces they currently have, but they've also been hit by the injury bug quite a bit over the last two seasons. With a little bit of health, they could be a playoff team in the East under new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
Toronto Raptors - Thompson would likely have to take a pay cut to come home for a season, but would the allure of playing in front of friends and family be worth more than the money? The Raptors could use him on the front line as well with the uncertainty around Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakers will be wanting to reload for another championship run next season and Thompson could be a nice piece off the bench for them in 2020-21. The money the Lakers will have to offer will be minimal but we've seen players make similar sacrifices to join LeBron in the past.
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