First reported by Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes and confirmed by every other basketball reporter, the Cleveland Cavaliers and power forward Tristan Thompson have agreed to a five-year, $82 million deal. This is pretty close to the five-year, $80 million deal the Cavaliers reportedly had on the table for most of the summer.
Thompson, who was a restricted free agent, held out for the maximum five-year, $94 million, and refused to sign before the Oct. 1st qualifying offer deadline. (The Cavaliers had to tender a one-year qualifying offer of $6.8 million to retain Thompson’s rights as a restricted free agent, and the ability to match any offer he received. Once that Oct. 1 deadline for Thompson to accept it passed he was still a restricted free agent, but the Cavaliers were allowed to take the offer off the table.)
When the deadline passed Thompson officially became a holdout, and lost some of the leverage he held. Throughout the summer his agent Rich Paul intimated that Thompson was willing to take the qualifying offer. While the Cavaliers would’ve gotten him relatively cheaply for this season, next season he would’ve been an unrestricted free agent—under the massive new salary cap—and they likely would’ve had to spend much more than $80 million to re-sign him. But once he held out the Cavaliers no longer had to offer the qualifying offer, and they even reportedly pulled their five-year, $80 million offer off the table, though that clearly was just a negotiating tactic.
Not agreeing to a deal before Oct. 1st left Thompson in a tough spot. Only two teams—the 76ers and Blazers—had enough salary cap space to offer him a big deal, and the chances of that happening were approximately zero percent. Thompson’s only options were to sit out the season, or accept whatever the Cavaliers deigned to offer him.
That being said, playing hardball with Thompson wasn’t necessarily in the Cavaliers’ best interest. Without a happy, motivated Tristan Thompson they would’ve had a much worse chance of winning an NBA title. And with the team tied up in salary cap hell for the foreseeable future regardless of whether they re-signed Thompson or not, they’re not going to get another shot at signing a good-to-possibly great player. (With Thompson in the fold, the Cavaliers will be paying around $170 million in salaries and luxury tax next season, the second most all time.)
This was always the most likely result. Thompson wasn’t going to sit out the entire season, but the Cavaliers also couldn’t risk that he would actually do so. The deal allows both sides to have something to feel good about, while also regretting that they left money on the table, which means it is probably a fair deal.
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