Imagine the thought that run through the minds of people when the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to pay Tristan Thompson $64 million in four years ahead of the 2015-2016 season. Practically every being connected to the NBA, looked at the deal as the latest wannabe star who actually gets paid like a superstar of yesteryear.
The league’s mega billion dollar broadcast deal once again was on the receiving end of misgivings about showering below average players with tons of money; Los Angeles Lakers signed former Cavs player Timofey Mozgov to a similar deal. However, Thompson’s relentless energy and focus on doing the little things that do not pop up in the box score made him a reliable piece in the Cavs Championship triumph over the best team in the regular season ever.
In the lead up to the playoffs this season, Cleveland’s woes have been exposed badly so much so, the team is fighting to retain its first seed spot in the Eastern Conference. While the entire world sees these deficiencies and losses and look right at the team’s “Big 3” for answers, the solutions may just lie in Thompson’s range in the paint.
The Canadian has missed the past four games and it has been ugly for the defending champs. It will be hysterical to believe Tristan’s presence nullifies Cleveland’s problems because let’s face it, the side lost winnable games in the regular season but his presence gives Cleveland the paint presence it sorely lacks.
Missing games close to end of the season to a thumb injury halted Thompson’s run of 447 straight games but much worse it happened at the time Cleveland blew a 26 point lead to lose in overtime to Atlanta Hawks. Ahead of tonight’s regular season finale, the Cavs risk losing the top seed to Boston Celtics before the playoffs begins.
Not that the Cavs precisely LeBron James mind qualifying to the postseason playing second fiddle to another because it has not stopped him from making six straight appearance in the finals. In the six finals, James’ teams have topped the East just twice (one with Miami Heat and the other last season with his home state team). Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks has topped the conference but failed to prevent King James from entering the stratosphere of Bill Russell; and to get to that level, James need Thompson in the frontcourt.
Thompson though undersized, bangs with the bigs and is nimble enough to hand with stretch Forwards and Centers. His terror on the glass (3.7 offensive rebounds) and 8.7 rebounds in all is needed in the playoffs where nuances in that department are a major difference maker. Aside preventing opponents from getting chances to score, those second scoring chances come in handy when Thompson feeds them. As one of the top teams in three point shooting percentage (second actually behind San Antonio Spurs) per teamrankings.com, Thompson’s impact cannot be understated as a backup to a lethal three point shooting team that has the likes of Kyle Korver, Channing Frye and Kevin Love.
Though Thompson missed the nationally televised game against the Celtics, the Cavs beat Boston mainly due to their superiority on the boards 51-38. Checking the box on issues such as rebounding is what the Cavs need to edge out teams like the Celtics, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors. Defense is needed to win titles just the way Cleveland did to secure its first title courtesy a legendary LeBron James block on Andre Iguodala. Thompson per reports has recovered from the injury but has been rested as the season winds down. Perhaps sitting alongside “the always resting at this time of the season” James on the sidelines is the perfect time to bury the hatchet that emanated from a full blown out argument between James and Thompson in the game against Indiana Pacers.
Earlier in the season, the pair had a little fracas due to Tristan’s relationship with television celebrity Khloe Kardashian. James was quick to distance the team from the star as a way of shielding Cleveland’s roster from constant attention which is the byproduct of having the game’s biggest name on the team. James can’t do it all alone even if he is the best since Kobe Bryant, he needs his guys especially Thompson if he is to get that fourth Championship.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter