Cavs

A Proper Cavs’ Farewell to Tristan Thompson

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With the NBA regular season set to kick off this week, Cavs fans are eager to say hello to a new group of players. This could be the most watchable team Cleveland has had since LeBron departed for LA.

But before the new season begins, it’s time to say farewell to a Cleveland favorite.

Tristan Thompson signed a two-year, $19 million contract with the Boston Celtics, officially ending his nine-season run with the Cavaliers. The Cavs are left with Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova as the only players left from the 2016 championship team. Thompson will be best remembered in Cleveland as a starter for the majority of the Cavs’ four consecutive trips to the Finals from 2015-2018. However, he will undoubtedly hold additional sentimental value because the fanbase got to see his maturation unfold right in front of them.

Going into the 2011 draft, the Cavs were at a major impasse of where to take the franchise. They had just finished a conference-worst 19-63 in their first post-LeBron season. Armed with the first and fourth picks in the draft, Cleveland took Kyrie Irving first before selecting Thompson fourth. Other highly regarded bigs were available such as Jonas Valančiūnas and Bismack Biyombo. Instead, Cleveland chose the Canadian who spent one season at Texas and would debut for the Cavs months later at just 20 years old.

Thompson played in three different eras of Cavaliers basketball: Pre-LeBron’s return, LeBron’s return, and Post-LeBron leaving part two. As you can tell, Cleveland’s distinct time periods revolve around Akron’s most famous son. Thompson’s role and expectations changed throughout the years as the roster changed around him. He was there for great times and the tough times.

Pre-LeBron’s return (3 seasons)

His first three years were some of those tough times. The growing pains of the Cavs’ young core were on full display from 2011 through 2014. While the team’s record improved each year of the rebuild, Cleveland never seriously factored into the playoff push until LeBron came back.

Thompson began his rookie season on the bench behind veterans Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejão. Later in the season, he was selected to the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge and became a starter due to a Varejão injury. After strong initial showings, head coach Byron Scott made Thompson the starter for the rest of the season. He earned NBA All-Rookie second team becoming the first Canadian to ever earn an All-Rookie honor.

In his second season, Thompson started in all 82 games at power forward for Cleveland and established himself as one of the elite offensive rebounders in the NBA. He set a franchise record for most offensive rebounds in a season with 306, and averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, ranking fifth in the NBA. He also led the team with 31 double-doubles, becoming just the ninth player in franchise history with 30 double-doubles in one season.

One of Thompson’s biggest weaknesses was the amount of times he had his shot blocked. Entering his third season, he underwent a well-publicized switch of his shooting hand going from left to right. Overall, his numbers didn’t change much from the shooting change and he once again started in all 82 games. He continued to put up elite numbers on the offensive glass and led the team in double-doubles with a career-high 36.

LeBron’s return (4 seasons)

In the summer of 2014, the Cavaliers transformed into a contender overnight when LeBron announced he was coming home in an open letter that name-dropped Thompson. When Kevin Love arrived in a trade shortly after, Thompson moved to the bench for most of the 2014-15 season. He again played in all 82 games and continued his terrific rebounding numbers, especially on the offensive glass.

Thompson started most of the team’s run to the Finals in his first postseason experience during the 2015 playoffs. Love suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at the hands of Kelly Olynyk in the first round, making Thompson the starting power forward the rest of the way. He put up terrific rebounding numbers throughout the playoffs, especially in the 2015 Finals, but the shorthanded Cavs without Love and Irving (who went down in Game 1 of the Finals) lost to the Warriors in six games.

Thompson became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015 and was widely expected to re-sign with the Cavs. However, contract talks stagnated for months until late October when the Cavs signed Thompson to a five-year, $82 million deal. The delay caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason.

In the 2015-16 season, Thompson again played in all 82 games (notice a trend?) and received more time in the starting lineup after Tyronn Lue took over as head coach midseason. By the start of the playoffs, Thompson was the team’s full-time starting center. His solid screen setting, tenacious rebounding, and constant energy made him a great compliment to Cleveland’s “Big Three”. He played a major role in turning the Cavs’ historic 3-1 Finals deficit against the Warriors into Cleveland’s first major sports championship in 52 years. His Game 6 performance was his biggest performance on the biggest stage.

In the 2016-17 season, Thompson became the first player in franchise history to play in 400 consecutive regular season games. His ironman streak ended at 447 in April of that season. That streak is the longest in franchise history and was the longest active streak in the league at that time. He only missed four games that season and started at center in every game he played. He started every game in the 2017 playoffs where the Cavs lost to Golden State in the Finals in five games.

The 2017-18 season saw Thompson play in only 53 games due to injury. His inconsistent health caused him to put up his the worst numbers of his career. Still, Thompson was back to his usual self by the 2018 postseason, starting 11 out of Cleveland’s 19 playoff games. The Cavs advanced to the 2018 Finals for the fourth year in a row before losing to Golden State in four games.

Post LeBron leaving Part 2 (2 seasons)

In the summer of 2018, LeBron James left Cleveland again to join the Lakers. Thompson began the 2018-19 season by putting up career-high points and rebounds but was sidelined due to a sprained foot. He ended up playing in only 43 games that year due to a number of leg injuries.

Thompson had a healthier year last season and played in 57 games before the pandemic shut the Cavs’ season down, averaging 12 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. When Cleveland traded for Andre Drummond while Thompson had an expiring contract, it became evident the Cavalier-lifer would be moving on.

Legacy

When Thompson officially signed with Boston, the Cavs released a statement and video thanking him for his time as a Wine and Golder. He leaves Cleveland after 78 playoff games, a championship, and making his mark on many of the franchise’s all-time lists. He leaves second in offensive rebounds, third in total rebounds, and sixth in blocks.

Yes, Tristan is also widely known for his relationship with Khloé Kardashian. It was quite a sight to see Kardashians in the arena for Cavs games. This relationship is relevant because in many ways, it shows Thompson’s maturation off the court as much as on it. When Thompson got to Cleveland he was a 20-year-old kid from Canada. When he left The Land, he had a championship ring and a kid with a Kardashian. That’s quite the evolution.

Cavs fans will miss Thompson’s durability, team-first attitude, and the way Fred McLeod would bellow “Tristan Thompson says I got your back!” on put-back dunks. He gave Cleveland all he had every game. Many years it was literally every game. He did all the little things that helped win games. Perhaps most importantly, he understood how badly Cleveland wanted a championship and has reciprocated the love to Cavs fans.

Thank you for everything, TT.

About Avi Carr-Gloth

Avi is an Emerson College graduate with a B.S. in Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @avicarrgloth to stay up to date on the latest Cavs content.

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