Toronto Raptors: Tristan Thompson should be a top free agency target

Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles the ball as Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors defends during the second half of an NBA game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles the ball as Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors defends during the second half of an NBA game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

With the NBA’s free agency opening fast approaching, the Toronto Raptors should make a run at veteran big man Tristan Thompson.

The Toronto Raptors haven’t really been discussed in regards to any upcoming free agents, outside of their own big names like Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. But with the market set to open late next week, it’s past time to explore some out-the-box options.

Who else should headline their list than Canadian born big man Tristan Thompson?

The 2016 champion has done little to nothing since winning his first ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If he’s to return to the only NBA team he’s ever known, it will be to a clustered center rotation alongside Kevin Love that now also features four-time rebounding champion, Andre Drummond.

That’s the same rotation that led to Thompson playing just two of the team’s last six games in the regular season, which leads to questioning behind any motive in a return to Cleveland. If he does ultimately test the waters in the open market, expect the Raptors to be there with interest.

Evan Dammarrell of Forbes recently reported that Toronto was a potential suitor for Thompson:

"“Thompson does have interested suitors on the market – mainly the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors, according to league sources.”"

It’s safe to say that Masai Ujiri will have his work cut out for Toronto if this is the pool of candidates for Thompson’s next NBA home. The Los Angeles Lakers will walk into next season as the defending champions and the LA Clippers are still somewhat viewed as their largest competitor.

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But ring chasing may not be on the mind of Thompson, who Dammarrell reported may view a return to Cleveland as an opportunity to aid their rebuild and talent development:

"“But, those same sources also shared that Thompson would like to try and finish his career with the Cavaliers and continue helping the team’s young core develop.”"

Nonetheless, a pursuit of Tristan Thompson would be worth it for the Toronto Raptors who, if they can retain Fred VanVleet, will be a looming contender in the Eastern Conference next season.

The Raptors aren’t expected to retain big man Serge Ibaka, who played such a large role for them last year, making for a large hole in their roster and rotation. The veteran big average 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while knocking down 38.5 percent of his 3.3 nightly three-point attempts.

Thompson can’t space the floor. The Raptors will have to find that elsewhere. But he can offer the same rim protection potentially even at a higher level than the veteran Ibaka given he’s two years younger with a hell of a lot less mileage on his knees.

Thompson finished the 2019-2020 campaign averaging a double-double of 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. So is an exit from the Cavaliers really all that likely? Negotiations were stalled as recently as last week, according to Chris Fedor of

"“The Cavs want him back — at the right price. But according to sources early discussions have centered on a number lower than Thompson would want.”"

Thompson made $18.5 million last season but that number isn’t realistic going forward, given his immediate history and the already-clogged free-agent market. Luckily for the former champion, there’s potentially a multi-year deal on the table for him in Toronto, should he feel so inclined.

The Raptors are going to need rim protection and a veteran presence within the post going into next season. With Ibaka, Toronto was allowing just 41.5 points in the paint nightly, which was bested only by the Milwaukee Bucks last season.

There’s also the rebounding effort, which is no doubt going to suffer in Ibaka’s absence. While Toronto wasn’t the best on the offensive glass, they were posting the league’s seventh-best defensive rebounding numbers at just under 36 defensive boards per game.

The Raptors are going to be looking to continue a streak of what is now five straight seasons with 50 or more wins while potentially undergoing a somewhat dramatic roster reconstruction. Given the market, his experience level and the team’s ambitions, Tristan Thompson makes the most sense for the Toronto Raptors should they end up needing a Serge Ibaka replacement.

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