Tristan Thompson and Restricted Free Agency: A Perfect Example


It isn’t every day that a complicated situation with a complicated set of rules and regulations results in a perfect example of the process and fallout that can result. We’ve had two such examples this offseason in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan reminded us all exactly what the moratorium period is, what goes into the negotiations and limitations of negotiating during the moratorium period, and the fallout that happens when a player second guesses their decision. Jordan’s choices gave us a perfect look how it all goes down, not just the hypotheticals that players are allowed to choose.

The second exemplar this summer is Tristan Thompson and his complicated situation is Restricted Free Agency. The idea behind restricted free agency isn’t too intricate. The process allows a team to hold onto their talented players by giving them a right of refusal on a contract offer to their RFA’s.

Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a 5-year, $80 million contract but still haven’t officially signed for many reasons, only one being that the numbers are tricky and LeBron James wasn’t going to re-sign until Thompson did. This is a particularly complicated year to be an RFA. With the cap about to jump astronomically, which has been discussed ad nauseum (deservedly so), there is more reason than ever to accept the qualifying offer for one year and hit free agency when the cap is higher than ever and the free agent class is scant at best.

It’s uncertain if there was ever a true agreement between the Cavaliers and Thompson for $80 million, but now there is no middle ground. Thompson still wants the max, according to his agent Rich Paul and reported by Brian Windhorst, but the Cavs are offering something well below that…allegedly. We don’t know how far apart they are, but we can be sure they aren’t particularly close, there is no agreement after all.

We don’t know when or how things went so wrong from being reliably reported to agreeing to the 5-year, $80 million deal to breaking off talks for roughly a month. But here is what Rich Paul and Thompson have at their feet going forward. A one-year qualifying offer for $6.8 million, two teams – the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers – with any realistic shot of signing Thompson to an offer sheet worth more than the Cavs offer, an offer that is somewhere likely around or below $80 million, and a deadline that doesn’t hit until October 31.

$6.8 million is nothing to sneeze at technically, but Thompson is looking at cashing in on possibly 25% of a $90 million salary cap if he strikes the max. That’s $22.5 million per year (not including raises, etc.), offsetting the risk of declining the $80 million ($16 million per year). Thompson isn’t a player we can lock in to a max contract like other players. He may not get the max even if he continues to play well next year. Teams will be looking at stretch fours more and once the cap increases, the amount of players getting the max will go down.

Right now, players that shouldn’t get the max are getting the max because teams know that a max contract now is a relative bargain after the cap jump. But once teams start to see the light at the end of the cap jump tunnel, they’ll stop giving out max contracts like they are now.

In all likelihood, a deal with be reached between Cleveland and Thompson. Probably below the max, that’s the advantage that restricted free agency gives the team. Players have shown their preference for security over possibility. But there are always one or two that go against the grain. This probably won’t end until close to the deadline.

About the author: Colby Rogers

Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.