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With the NBA season kicking off in less than three weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still missing one of their key members, free agent big man Tristan Thompson.
Thompson and the Cavaliers have been engaged in a standoff over contract negotiations since July. Thompson has been demanding a max. contract of $94 million over five years (he also offered to go to three years, $54 million) while the Cavs have been standing firm with their five-year, $80 million offer.
Despite training camp beginning last week and the two sides passing a rare deadline that eliminated the chance for Thompson to take a one-year, $6.9 million deal, there’s been no progress, and it seems like things are starting to get ugly.
LeBron James, who had publicly backed Thompson and said he should be a Cav for life, said he would stay out of it when training camp began, saying he thinks both sides will get something done.
However, last week James began putting pressure on both sides to come to an agreement. James called the negotiations a distraction, and he also posted an Instagram with Thompson, with the caption “Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother” trying to sway both sides:
Regardless, it doesn’t appear a resolution is near.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst went on “The Lowe Post” with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, and discussed the holdout (although it’s not technically a holdout, since Thompson is a free agent, and doesn’t have an obligation to show up to camp while unsigned) and delivered a bleak message:
“I think it’s going to take a third-party event to bridge the gap here, and I can’t predict what that’s gonna be,” Windhorst said. “It’s either gonna take an injury elsewhere in the NBA, or some sort of action elsewhere in the NBA to get these guys to refocus. But I actually believe it will probably go months. I think this will go well into the regular season.”
Windhorst did note that there’s an unpredictable nature to negotiations, and something could happen out of the blue in the next few weeks, but he believes, as things currently stand, it could take a long time.
The Cavs faced a similar situation with Anderson Varejao in 2007, when he didn’t like the Cavs’ contract offer. He missed the first 21 games of the Cavs’ season before receiving an offer from the Charlotte Hornets, which the Cavs matched.
Windhorst suggests the same type of thing could push Thompson and the Cavs along now (along with an injury). However, Thompson’s situation may be a little more complicated. Like Varejao, Thompson is a restricted free agent, which means the Cavs can match any offer he receives. However, it’s well-known Thompson is demanding a max. contract. Only two teams in the NBA, the 76ers and Blazers, have the cap space to offer Thompson that kind of money (and would need to get creative to do so), and they don’t seem interested. Furthermore, a team looking to give Thompson less than the maximum knows he’s not interested and the Cavs would just match.
As Windhorst says, it may take a key injury somewhere for this to get done. Whether an outside team loses a big man and needs Thompson, or the Cavs lose somebody and need Thompson, it appears both sides are unwilling to blink as this standoff becomes increasingly legitimate.