As LeBron James signed a brand new two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a door opened slightly for the Toronto Raptors to pursue restricted free agent Canadian power forward Tristan Thompson.
Everyone seems to remember James saying he wanted Thompson back next season and there were plenty of “experts” implying James wouldn’t sign before a deal got done with his NBA Finals starting power forward. However, what seems to be missed is precisely what James said, “Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career.” Probably being the most overlooked word in that sentence.
“I appreciate the compliment, if that’s a compliment, from LeBron,” Thompson said.
It isn’t hard to remember that it was James who insisted the Cavs trade for power forward Kevin Love last summer and that trade cost Thompson his starting job in Cleveland. It’s even easier to remember that James actively recruited the unrestricted free agent Love this summer and the Cavs quickly agreed to give Love a new max deal. Thompson hasn’t been so lucky.
Now James can still definitely make Thompson’s return to the Cavaliers a personal priority, however, there now seems to be some doubt about whether or not that will happen.
Source tells ESPN that there is no Tristan Thompson deal imminent w/ CLE just because of the LeBron agreement: “Not a package”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 9, 2015
So just maybe James and Thompson aren’t joined at the hip after all.
If the Cavaliers all-but-in-name general manager James isn’t insisting on Thompson’s return and simply wants to win as many NBA Championships as possible, he may have looked at the Cavs roster and realized his team needs some more depth – preferably players that aren’t as old as dirt and might actually be useful at some point.
Toronto likely isn’t the only team James could approve the Cavs discussing a sign-and-trade for Thompson with, but they would probably be the most motivated team and a franchise Thompson is likely to accept a trade to.
The Raptors wouldn’t decimate their roster to get Thompson, but they would almost certainly be willing to trade some of their bench and possibly even one of their extra first round draft picks to acquire the rising Canadian – dare we say? – star.
A package that included Terence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Lucas Nogueira would add a badly needed three-point shooting wing to replace J.R. Smith, a solid backup power forward to replace Thompson and a project center in his second NBA season to a depleted Cavaliers roster that has limited options beyond minimum salary veterans at this point.
The Raptors would get the starting power forward that seems to be missing from their roster presently.
As has been the case since his return to Cleveland, most decisions of any importance will ultimately rest with James. If James insists the Cavs give Thompson his max deal, owner Dan Gilbert will swallow hard once again and make it happen. If James lets the team decide or remembers how a lack of depth just cost him a championship, Cavs GM David Griffin could be on the phone to Toronto.
Having James move his status from – Love’s backup to ‘you should probably be a Cavalier‘ – isn’t exactly the ringing endorsement Thompson should feel he has earned over the last three weeks. It still sounds like the King is continuing to hedge his bets in favor of a better option?