The Cleveland Cavaliers are destined to be sellers at the trade deadline. The Toronto Raptors could be a beneficiary if they acquire Tristan Thompson.
The Toronto Raptors haven’t slipped in their first post-championship season with a 20-8 record, setting them on a path to be buyers at the trade deadline in February.
For Masai Ujiri, the question isn’t if there’s a trade to be made, it’s who should be traded for?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are one team that is almost guaranteed to be a seller in the next couple of months. After starting 8-21, they’re going nowhere this season and need to move on from their expensive veterans to start building around a promising core of Collin Sexton and their 2019 draft class headlined by Darius Garland.
One of the veterans they’re poised to move is center Tristan Thompson. He’s in the midst of one of the better campaigns of his career, averaging 13.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, both above his career averages. He’s also averaging 2.4 assists per game, which would be a career-high for the big man.
Thompson has consistently been one of the more efficient players in the league — a function of how close he plays to the basket — and 2019-20 has been no different, as he sports a 51.8 field goal percentage. He still can’t shoot it from deep, having made just three 3-pointers in his career, which have all come this year. It’s a work in progress.
The NBA has moved away from big men with traditional skill sets like Thompson, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an asset for a contending team. His 1.7 Win Shares this season are more than the likes of Russell Westbrook, Andrew Wiggins and Derrick Rose, according to Basketball-Reference. That would rank seventh on the Raptors roster.
Thompson is on an expiring contract, so he possibly would be just a one-year rental for the Raptors. He may be interested in sticking around long-term, however, as the 28-year-old is a native of Ontario.
He’s making just over $18.5 million this season according to Spotrac, a hefty amount of money for an old school big man in today’s NBA. That would rank fourth on the Raptors, behind Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Cleveland is a rebuilding team, so it’s going to be more interested in taking on prospects and picks, especially if it’s parting with expiring contracts that could clear cap space for the summer. Toronto has both of their draft picks for 2020, so that could be one trade chip.
Bargaining the future for the present is a challenging task, but it worked when Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to a title last year. The players the Cavs and other suitors would likely seek in a trade include OG Anunoby and Terence Davis, the latter of whom is having a great rookie season and would be hard to give up.
Giving up those players would be difficult, but perhaps necessary in pursuit of a repeat title.
Desperation may set in soon for the Raptors, who are dealing with injuries to several key contributors, including Gasol. According to ESPN, Gasol is out indefinitely with a left hamstring injury as well as Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam.
The Toronto Raptors are well within their rights to pursue Tristan Thompson as they push through this next stretch.