According to Forbes’ Evan Dammerall, the Toronto Raptors have expressed interest in signing free agent centre, Tristan Thompson. Thompson has spent his whole career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists.
The Brampton, Ontario native is highly regarded as one of the best rebounders in the league, having never gone a season averaging below 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. He’s not the largest guy on the floor, standing only 6’9 and weighing 238 pounds, but he boxes out well and out-hustles his opponents on the boards.
Thompson is quite limited offensively, and at 29 years old, seems to be a finished product. Most of his baskets come off putbacks provided by his 4.0 offensive rebounds per game, post hooks on the low block, or off teammates finding him for easy dunks under the basket. He’s not uber athletic and can’t run the floor very well, nor can he shoot the basketball at a high clip. During his nine years playing in the NBA, Thompson has only attempted 32 shots from behind the arc, and has made good on just nine of them. Encouragingly, all nine of those makes came during the 2019-2020 season, illustrating that he is dedicating himself to stretching the floor, however his inability to step outside and knock down open shots consistently just yet necessitates him being surrounded by shooters.
Onto the defensive side of the basketball, Thompson is not much of a rim protector, as he’s inhibited by his lack of leaping ability, and as aforementioned, is only 6’9. It doesn’t help that he can’t make rim-runs or stretch the floor either, as that forces teams to use him as a traditional centre, as opposed to playing another big man on the floor with him. Nick Nurse could still potentially try to run a jumbo lineup as we saw him do in short stints with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka together, however that was more easily facilitated by the fact that the latter two are above average three-point shooters, and it didn’t kill the Raptors offensively.
Shot-blocking ability aside, Thompson is actually a very solid defender, which is why it comes as no surprise that Toronto is interested in his services. He is smart on that end of the floor, he makes good reads, and he can still alter shots just by getting his body to the right place at the right time. He rotates well, he looks comfortable closing out to shooters, and while he certainly can’t stay in front of quicker guards for too long on the perimeter, he does have the ability to switch onto some forwards who play outside the arc.
With teams devoid of much cap space this year, it’s hard to see Thompson commanding a contract worth too much more than $9M per season. Still on the right side of thirty however, he could look to sign a slightly larger one-year deal with a team like the Raptors, and hit the open market again next summer when cash will be flocking to free agents like confetti at a parade. That would be the ideal situation for Toronto, as they too, would like to keep their books as empty as possible for 2021.
With Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Chris Boucher all hitting unrestricted free agency this summer, it’s almost a certainty that the Raptors won’t be able to bring all three of them back. Until any signings or draft decisions are made, Toronto has a grand total of zero centres on its roster. Taking a one-year flyer on Tristan Thompson would certainly be a safer bet for the Raptors than using their 29th overall pick in the draft to try and scoop up a 20-year-old who would be expected to play 20 minutes per game off the bench right from the get-go.
Unfortunately, subsequent reports by Dammerall stated that Thompson is interested in finishing his career with the Cavaliers and helping their young players develop. While it may not be the best career decision for Thompson – or even the best financial choice – it would sort of serve as a ‘thank you’ for the championship that they won together in 2016. If he were to leave however, teams like his hometown Raptors, or the Los Angeles Lakers where his good friend LeBron James plays would be right at the top of his list.