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Tristan Thompson Checks In from Cali While the NBA Ruminates
Light years away from the soft-spoken Canadian kid in the cardigan that the Cavs tabbed with the fourth overall pick almost nine years ago, these days Tristan Thompson has the cool, calm veteran presence of someone who’s seen it all.
He’s the squad’s older brother, and he relishes that role. Even with Andre Drummond on the roster, T-Top’s the muscle.
And with big decisions upcoming this offseason whether the Wine & Gold are able to complete this campaign or not, Tristan maintained that steady vet demeanor when he took a moment to meet the virtual media from his California home.
With updates trickling out about Adam Silver’s decisions and several Cavaliers working their way back to Cleveland Clinic Courts, Thompson has remained on the West Coast. He’s eager to get back on the hardwood, but like his teammate Larry Nance Jr. said the other day, he’s not eager to be a guinea pig.
”I'm going to piggyback on what my big-man brother said, my light-skinned brother,” quipped Thompson. “I'm not going to be the first one out and about roaming the streets when they (open up). I’m going to take my time doing my takeout and going out with my mask and my gloves. For me to be very social again, it’ll take a while.”
Like Nance, Thompson was flourishing just before the COVID-19 crisis caused the season’s suspension.
Averaging a double-double for the second straight season, the rugged 29-year-old notched double-figures in the first five games of J.B. Bickerstaff’s tenure after going into the All-Star Break off a 27-point, 11-rebound outburst off the bench in a win over Atlanta.
In Cleveland’s dramatic home win over Denver on March 7, the longest-tenured Cav was a load on both ends – finishing with nine points, 13 boards, five assists and a pair of blocks while holding All-Star Nikola Jokic to eight points and eight rebounds on 4-of-11 shooting.
”We were actually trending in the right direction and beating a lot of teams that were fighting for playoff position,” said Thompson. “The one I remember was the Spurs at home, that overtime game, at that point they were in the 9th seed, so they needed a win, and for us to get that W – we were trying to do that for the last 20 games.
”Obviously when the news broke out about it we're like ‘%#&@’ – we were actually sad about (not) messing up teams’ records.”
Like most of us, the former Longhorn is running out of things to watch on Netflix and confesses to having seen the same episode of “Chopped Junior” three times. But unlike most of us, Thompson has his own training facility.
”The way I’ve approached it is just like a regular offseason,” said Thompson. “Obviously, the last couple of years we haven't been the playoffs and our offseason has been longer, so that's kind of my approach. I don't really do much anyways, so I just been working out chilling with the family.
”You know it's been a blessing in disguise, because you know my kids live on the West Coast, so for me to spend that time with them is the most important thing during this time – because long distance is sometimes hard. So I just look at the positives.”
Even as the eight-year vet has become more verbose over the years, he’s always let his game do most of the talking.
"Obviously when the news broke out about it, we're like ‘%#&@’ – we were actually sad about (not) messing up teams’ records."
When the 2019-20 season came to a halt just before his 29th birthday, Thompson was having a career year.
His team-best 25 double-doubles placed him among the NBA’s top 20 and his 10.1rpg placed him in the league’s top 10. He was averaging a career-bests in scoring (12.0ppg), assists (2.1apg) and blocks (.88bpg). Only one player in the NBA was better than Tristan on the offensive glass – with Andre Drummond edging his teammate, 4.4 to 4.0rpg.
He grabbed a career-high 22 boards (to go with 13 points) against the Knicks on January 20 and posted a monster game against his former teammate in road win over Detroit – going off for 35 points on 15-for-20 shooting, adding a team-high 14 boards, three blocks and a steal.
In the aforementioned 27-point effort against Atlanta, Thompson – just the third Cavalier in team history with 400 blocks and 5,000 boards – drilled all three three-pointers he attempted. This year, he’s canned nine three-pointers – after attempting nine through the first seven years of his career.
He knows he has some decisions to make no matter how the remainder of the summer shakes out. But right now, Thompson has keep himself centered on the task at hand.
”I don’t think anyone is thinking about free agency here,” said Thompson. “Everyone is thinking about if we’re going to get some games going on. So in terms of the free agency stuff I just let Rich Paul handle that. For me, just keep the main focus, the main focus and (I’m) staying ready to play some basketball whenever that may be.”
Thompson’s tenure has reached historical levels. He’s one of three Cavaliers still remaining from the Championship squad of 2016.
Historically, he’s eclipsed Jim Chones’ iron man streak – playing in 447 straight – and is nipping at Austin Carr’s heels in terms of games played, having suited up for 619 as a Cavalier.
In an age of uncertainty, Thompson has Cleveland’s constant in an ever-changing universe.
”Never thought in a million years I'd have the success that I've had,” said Thompson. “For me, it's just taking one day at a time and enjoying every bit of it – meeting so many great people, being part of a franchise in a city that's been through some tough times. To break the 52-year drought, that was the most important thing in my time here. I wouldn't change it for the world.”