Why one of the NBA's best free agents still hasn't signed 1 week before training camp

Tristan Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in a summer-long standoff over Thompson’s next contract.

Thompson entered the offseason as one of the NBA’s best young free agents, particularly after an impressive Finals performance in which he showed off his elite rebounding prowess, defensive versatility, and capability around the basket on offence.

However, Thompson and the Cavs have hit a wall in contract negotiations, one that’s only been complicated by Thompson being a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer Thompson receives.

At the beginning of the summer, the Cavs and Thompson seemed to be nearing an agreement on a five-year, $US80 million deal. Then, suddenly things fell through, and it was reported that Thompson felt that deal wasn’t on-par with what other big men got in free agency.

It later came out that Thompson is demanding a max. contract of $US94 million, and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll take the one-year, $US6.8 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent next year. His agent, Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron James, has said that if Thompson plays on the qualifying offer this season, he won’t re-sign long-term with the Cavs next summer.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, negotiations haven’t progressed any further, as neither side has budged in the months since free agency began. The two sides are reportedly still $US14 million apart, and with training camp one week away, if a deal doesn’t happen soon, Thompson may end up taking the qualifying offer.

There are risks and benefits for both sides. If Thompson has another strong year, he’ll look like a genius for gambling on his future with a one-year deal. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump nearly $US20 million next summer as a result of a new TV deal, and Thompson could enter as one of the best free agents when teams are flush with cash.

However, taking a one-year deal would be an enormous gamble for Thompson. If he gets hurt or has a bad season, he might not end up with a better offer than the $US80 million the Cavaliers offered him this season.

For the Cavs, while they have been smart not to bend to a max. salary for Thompson — their $US80 million offer is right on par with what other bigs have gotten this offseason — they are playing with fire. As Windhorst notes, the Cavs’ other big men, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, and Anderson Varejao are all coming off injuries. Pushing a young, talented, durable big man like Thompson out the window doesn’t bode well for the future.

Similarly, losing Thompson could also anger LeBron James, who’s publicly supported re-signing Thompson. Though Windhorst says LeBron has stayed out of negotiations, he has said Thompson should be a Cav for life, and has said they need him back this season. The NBA world widely believes LeBron has a tremendous amount of say in the Cavs’ personnel decisions, and if they ignore him, it could factor into his decision when he becomes a free agent again.

The NBA season is right around the corner, and unless a deal happens soon, the situation between the Cavs and Thompson doesn’t bode well for a team that looks like a contender to make it back to the Finals.

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