3 Reasons Cavs Should Trade Tristan Thompson by Next Season

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The Cleveland Cavaliers abruptly changed from a team that had competed in the previous four NBA Finals into one that finished with a 19-63 record for the 2018-19 campaign.

That’s given the team’s general manager Koby Altman plenty of decisions to make during the offseason. In the case of veteran center Tristan Thompson, whose contract expires after next season, dealing him away now seems to be the wisest course of action to take.

While the Cavaliers are currently in full rebuilding mode, they aren’t averse to keeping veterans around to remain competitive. Power forward Kevin Love is the most obvious example of this approach, after the team signed him to a four-year extension last summer.

Yet any debate about whether or not to also extend Thompson needs to have a reality check attached to the conversation.

Below are three chief reasons why trading Thompson is the right strategy for Altman.

1. Limited Production

Tristan Thompson Houston Rockets

During those glory years of the Cavaliers, when LeBron James served as the team’s leader, Thompson’s one-dimensional game of being a monster rebounder was a luxury the team could afford. Now, it’s a huge investment in a player that won’t really offer the team any high level of improvement.

Thompson agreed to a five-year, $82 million deal in 2015 following a lengthy holdout. The Cavaliers went on to win an NBA title that year, but the veteran’s statistical numbers haven’t improved to the extent that holding onto him makes any sense.

Even with his injury-shortened campaign this year that saw him average a double-double in 43 games, he’s still only delivering career numbers of 9.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

In addition, the once-durable Thompson has been felled by injury in each of his last two years. After having played in all but 10 of his first 466 regular season games, he’s missed 68 games over the last two years. He turned 28 last month and there’s no guarantee that the toll of playing all of those previous games hasn’t begun his inevitable decline.

2. The Value of an Expiring Contract

In making clear their intention to rebuild, the Cavaliers indicated that they’d be willing to take on bad contracts in exchange for a future draft pick or two. Thompson has just one more year left on his deal, which means that any team currently in that position can help clean its financial books after next season by acquiring him.

There are also teams that believe that their window of opportunity to challenge for a league title is beginning to close and are looking for a stopgap option for contributions. There’s no doubt that Thompson can crash the boards and his scoring did see an uptick this season. That could entice such teams to trade for him and then worry about possibly re-signing him later.

In either scenario, Thompson serves as an asset for a Cavaliers team that won’t be challenging for an NBA title any time soon. The longer the Cavs hold onto him, the less value he offers and letting him walk next year means that the team ends up with nothing in return.

3. Limiting Development

Larry Nance Jr. Cavs

If Thompson were to leave, that would mean the Cavaliers have the duo of Larry Nance Jr. and Ante Zizic in the paint, two young players who continue to develop. This season, Nance averaged 9.4 points and 8.2 rebounds in 67 games, while Zizic averaged 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in his 59 contests.

During the 2018-19 campaign, Nance and especially Zizic saw more time on the court, with Nance also filling in at power forward on occasion. Looking at their numbers when playing at least 24 minutes shows that Nance scored in double figures 33 times in the 44 games where he passed that threshold, including 17 double-doubles.

Zizic’s numbers also offer promise that simply getting playing time can help improve his game. When he played 24 minutes or more this season, he averaged 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds, numbers that would obviously be reduced with Thompson still in the picture. Having been part of the Kyrie Irving deal and the fact that he’s just 22 years old should offer two reasons why getting every bit of value out of Zizic should be a Cavaliers goal.

Bottom Line

Keeping Thompson on the team or making an effort to re-sign him won’t necessarily make the Cavaliers worse, but it also won’t make them much better unless there’s suddenly a large infusion of talent. That doesn’t figure to happen for at least a while, and if and when it does, his career should be on the decline. Thus, making plans to expedite that infusion should mean seeking out a deal to trade Thompson as soon as possible.

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Brad Sullivan is a lead writer for Cavaliers Nation. He has spent much of life in the Cleveland, Ohio area, and has remained a Cavalier fan from their 1970 beginnings through the return of LeBron James. While that fandom was sorely tested during the Reign of Error known simply by one word, Stepien, that overall historical perspective will be part of his writing for Cavaliers Nation in the months ahead.