There are rumblings that agent Rich Paul could deliver another client to his hometown team in the near future. Several league executives believe Canadian Tristan Thompson may head north to Toronto in the summer of 2016 if he signs his one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I always thought he was going to end up (in Toronto) this year,” one Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops. “There’s going to be so much money next year so I think he will get it.”
As most folks know, Paul is the agent for LeBron James, who in 2014 returned to Cleveland in one of the biggest homecoming moments in sports history. That moment was engineered by Paul.
Paul also is the agent for Cory Joseph, another Canadian who signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the Raptors this summer. At 24, Joseph became the first Toronto-bred NBA player to sign with the team in the prime of his career.
The move has brought a level of excitement to Toronto at a time when the young talent pool has never been better. Just ask Drake, who referenced Joseph’s 2014 title with the San Antonio Spurs in his song Charged Up when he said, “I get a ring and I bring it home like I’m Cory Jo.”
It’s also worth noting that Joseph and Thompson are friends who have played together during their AAU, high school and college days.
The rumblings I’ve detected are caused in part by the fact that both players are represented by Paul.
With that in mind, there is the possibility that Thompson could reunite with Joseph in Toronto next summer as the next homecoming story under Paul’s watch.
Without naming a destination, Paul already has said as much. Earlier this month, he told Northeast Ohio Media Group that “a Tristan Thompson qualifying offer will be his last year with the Cavs.”
According to multiple reports, Thompson and Paul turned down a significant five-year deal worth over $80 million deal from Cleveland earlier this summer. That seemed strange after Thompson played the best basketball of his career on the biggest stage, averaging a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds in the NBA Finals.
Then again, Paul also turned down a four-year, $52 million extension offer last fall and was second-guessed to no end around the league. In retrospect, Paul made the right move, with his client now entertaining a much more lucrative offer.
Thompson is the same player James called a “key piece” to Cleveland’s hopes of winning a title this season. On a separate occasion, James also said Thompson “should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career.”
The X-factor in Toronto lies off the court, where Thompson’s marketability as a homegrown hero dwarfs his marketing ceiling in Cleveland.
“He’s a Toronto kid and I’m sure he has a strong following at home,” one Eastern Conference executive told SheridanHoops.
Paul and Thompson have spent a substantial amount of time in Toronto over the years, which has been publicly documented on the agency’s Klutch Sports Instagram account as recently as three weeks ago and roughly a year ago with the caption “Toronto Takeover #Klutch #StriveForGreatness.”
As an agent, Paul is limited to four percent of Thompson’s NBA contract. However, agents typically claim 20-25 percent of a client’s marketing income. If Thompson signed with Toronto, Paul would have a potentially lucrative revenue stream not available in Cleveland.
So is Paul being greedy and trying to align himself with another franchise while double-dipping in the process? If so, is Paul overplaying his hand in the negotiation process with Cleveland?
Depends who you ask.
“I think he’s a $15 million player even with the new cap,” another Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops.
“He might be a good fit with Jonas Valanciunas,” a rival Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops.
If Thompson accepts the qualifying offer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, when the salary cap is expected to balloon to $90 million. A four-year deal from Toronto would be worth about $87 million – more money for less years than Cleveland is offering now. Depending how high the cap goes, it could reach $100 million. It’s all speculative at this point until we know the actual figures.
Thompson would represent a serious upgrade at power forward alongside Valanciunas, who recently signed a four-year, $64 million extension.
More importantly, he could partner with Joseph to eventually help recruit the biggest Canadian fish in the basketball sea – Andrew Wiggins – to the Raptors as well. All three figure to be part of the Canadian national team for the foreseeable future.
However, it won’t be that simple. Thompson’s starting salary would be $20.4 million, and Toronto already has $80 million in salaries on the books heading into next summer.
That total includes the $10.1 million due DeMar DeRozan, who likely will opt out of his player option and enter free agency with the idea of doubling his salary. It also includes the $4.79 million qualifying offer for Terrence Ross, who is looking for an extension before the October 31 deadline.
“Toronto would have to move around pieces to get him,” an Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops. “They won’t have enough room right now.”
Despite having $80 million on the projected payroll for next season, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has never been shy about making trades and has publicly stated his intentions to add more Canadian players to the team during his tenure.
“The risk of an injury always is a factor, as well as a subpar season,” another Western Conference executive told SheridanHoops.
Although nothing is guaranteed, an injury doesn’t seem likely for Thompson. The iron man has played in all 82 games for three straight seasons.
If Thompson did sustain an injury, all is not lost either. The Dallas Mavericks signed Wesley Matthews to a four-year, $70 million deal following his season-ending Achilles injury this summer.
However, a reduction in playing time – and production as a result – is possible. The arrival of Kevin Love last summer moved Thompson to the bench. Thompson became a starter in the postseason when Love suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first round.
Thompson certainly capitalized on his opportunity and showed what he can do given starter’s minutes as the leading offensive rebounder in the 2015 playoffs. Both Love (shoulder) and Anderson Varejao (Achilles) are expected to be healthy when training camp begins after surgery. The Cavs also recently signed center Sasha Kaun to add depth to the frontcourt.
In small lineups, Thompson can also play center, where the Cavs have Timofey Mozgov, who is returning from offseason knee surgery. Thompson’s limited offensive range prevents him from playing as a stretch forward in the mold of James Jones.
That said, Thompson’s is highly effective in pick-and-roll sets as Fear The Sword noted.
Thompson won’t likely average the 36 minutes per game he did in the postseason. The 27 minutes per game he averaged during the regular season is more realistic.
Ultimately, the Cavaliers would likewise face backlash if they allowed the former No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft to walk away for nothing in return.
If Thompson signs the qualifying offer, he and Paul are going all in on this season. It is a calculated risk, similar to the one Greg Monroe made last season. That worked out pretty well.
If they win, Thompson will represent a happy homecoming for another of Paul’s clients. Following James and Joseph, this would be “going home” part three — and more and more folks around the league are viewing this as Paul’s endgame.