The Cleveland Cavaliers will need to let Tristan Thompson leave if the team hopes to compete in an NBA that’s facing a cash-strapped future.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are poised to look real good in 2020-2021. They got an All-Star center in Andre Drummond and All-Star power forward in Kevin Love, with a top-5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and a pretty solid offensive team. They’re missing a piece or two. To fill those missing gaps, that means that they have to let Tristan Thompson walk.
Anything more than a 3-year, $30 million deal seems excessive for Thompson, who turns 30 in March. He’s offensively limited and has never lived up to the status of the No. 4 overall pick in a draft. He was picked ahead of guys like Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, and Jonas Valanciunas. All better players than Thompson, all taken later.
Worst yet, despite his offensive limitations, he’s never been a great defender either. A seventh-man-off the-bench role would be perfect for him, where ever that ends up being. He’s a solid enough big but re-signing with the Cavs would handcuff the team too much to justify him staying.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has a source that claims the chances of him returning to Cleveland are 50-50 at the moment. If he does return, The Cavs would be near the luxury-tax limit, which means they technically wouldn’t be able to use their mid-level-exception. The MLE is a way for a team to go after outside help if they’re over the cap. It can be used completely on one player or divided up over several.
If the Cavs bring back Thompson, they’ll still have their MLE and be able to use it but they’ll have no space under the luxury tax to use it. Once a team goes over the luxury tax, they owe anywhere from $1.25 to $3.75 for every dollar spent over the luxury limit. So if a team spends $3 million of their MLE and go over the luxury tax limit, they’ll essentially have to give the league $3.75 million extra. If a team goes over the luxury tax by $20 million, they’d get taxed at a rate of $3.75, which means they’d owe $75 million, on top of their payroll.
The numbers are even worse for repeat offenders, which the Cavs are. Having paid over $150 million dollars during the LeBron James title run era from 2014-2017 alone. The year they won the title saw the Cavs operate at a loss. To a tune of $40 million in the hole. Think about that; the most successful year on the court was the least successful one from a business perspective.
With TV ratings being down, interest being down, and issues with China causing an impact on finances, the league is expected to have lower caps and luxury taxes for next season. The Cavs aren’t a big moneymaker in the NBA anyway, and a luxury hit now would really hurt the team. That means that Thompson is just too expensive to bring back with his limited skill set.
The Cavs already have three good bigs anyway, and all who have the same skills Thompson does and more. Love, Drummond and Larry Nance Jr. are all just as capable at doing everything Thompson does. Plus the team brought in Jordan Bell as an insurance policy in case Thompson does leave.
So the Cavs best bet is to let Thompson walk and try to bring in two free agents in the MLE. The Cavs could probably land Derrick Jones and Pat Connaughton if they split the MLE. Neither player warrants more than a few million at the moment, so it’s possible. Jones could help the defense and Connaughton could spread the floor. Win, win.
For the financial health of the team, it’s time to move forward.