After months of a standoff of sorts, the Cleveland Cavaliers and forward Tristan Thompson have reportedly come to a deal. According to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com on Twitter, “Sources: Tristan Thompson ends holdout and will report to #Cavs after reaching 5-year, $82 million deal.”
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) October 21, 2015
When you first do the math, $16.4 million per season for a player who has averaged just 10.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per season over his career seems like quite the overpayment. Furthermore, when you look at his 2014-2015 numbers of 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game—it looks like an utter steal for Thompson and his agent.
But this deal wasn’t done for the value of it now, it was done for its value in the future.
With the NBA salary cap jumping to $70 million for the 2015-2016 season, Thompson’s average of $16.4 million per season is 23.4 percent of the salary cap this season. However, with projected increases coming over the next two years thanks to an influx of TV money, the deal will look much better in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 than it does now.
According to a report on ESPN earlier in the year, the 2016-2017 salary cap is projected to hit $89 million, while the 2017-2018 cap is projected to go as high as $108 million. At the percentage of cap Thompson got for this season (23.4 percent), that means his deal would have averaged $20.8 million had it started next season (five-year deal, $104 million). And had that deal been signed in 2017-2018, it would have averaged $25.3 million (five-year deal, $126.5 million).
Now, I do not pretend to be the salary cap and projected numbers (Thompson’s yearly number will be different than the average of the deal as year one starts at $14.26 million) guru that many out there are, but that is a pretty significant difference in yearly contract if you ask me. Instead of averaging 23.4 percent of the cap every year, Thompson’s deal will fall to 18.4 percent of the projected cap next year, and 15.2 percent of the projected cap the year after that.
To put it simply, in two years this deal is probably going to look like a steal in comparison to other deals that are being handed out at that time.
At 24-years old, Thompson has been growing as a player the last few seasons after being drafted as a very raw athlete out of Texas back in 2011. His importance to this Cavs team cannot be measured in his stat line, as his hustle and relentless motor create extra opportunities for the team—especially on the offensive end.
Is he a bench player who just received an 80-plus million contract? Absolutely, nobody is denying that. But given the Cavaliers cap situation with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, they had no choice but to retain their own young talent, because there was zero chance of being able to replace Thompson on the open market.
At the end of the day, many are going to be upset about giving a bench player that large of a contract—but I implore you to look deeper. The Cleveland Cavaliers just retained a young player with upside for the next five seasons, adding him to the mix with Love, Irving and Iman Shumpert as players who are under contract for the next four-plus years. Add in the fact that James does not appear to be going anywhere despite signing one and two-year deals for the foreseeable future to maximize market value, and the Cavaliers are lined up to be contenders for the NBA Finals for the next half of a decade.
So sit back and enjoy the fact that the Cavaliers front office is taking steps to ensure the future of this franchise. Because nobody wants to go back to those four years James was in Miami, and the moves David Griffin has made is putting this organization in a position to make sure that does not happen for a long, long time.