Since his departure from Cleveland, Tristan Thompson has worn the jerseys of five other franchises – the Celtics, Kings, Pacers, Bulls and Lakers. And he just hasn’t looked right in any of them.
But when Training Camp tips off in less than a month, the beloved blue-collar big from Canada will be donning the Wine & Gold once again after inking a free agent deal with the Cavaliers on Tuesday afternoon.
“Tristan embodies every trait we want as part of our team culture, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring his experience and character back into our franchise,” said Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman. “His impact both on and off the court is immeasurable, and his history with our team adds a layer of familiarity, leadership and physicality that will undoubtedly make a positive impact with our younger players.
“An integral part of our four consecutive NBA Finals trips and an NBA Championship in 2016, Tristan represented the organization with the utmost charm and professionalism during his nine seasons in Northeast Ohio. We are thrilled to reunite with Tristan and welcome him and his family back to the Cavaliers family.”
In the recent history of the Wine & Gold, the affable undersized big man has seen the highs, the lows, and everything in-between.
Thompson’s Cavaliers won 21 total games during his truncated rookie season and combined for just 38 victories in his final two with Cleveland.
In between those difficult years was the greatest stretch of prosperity in franchise history – making four straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning the whole enchilada in 2016, in part behind the outstanding and inspiring play of Numeral 13.
After winning Game 5 in Golden State behind heroic performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Thompson set the tone when the series came back to Cleveland for Game 6 – playing like a man-possessed from the opening tip, grabbing nine rebounds in the opening period, leading both teams with 16 on the night while connecting on all six shots from the floor.
The native of Brampton, ON started 429 games for the Cavs and came off the bench for 190 more. During his tenure, Tristan saw seven different head coaches, 17 assistants and played alongside 113 different teammates. His 619 games with Cleveland rank him sixth on the organization’s all-time list – needing just 16 games to pass a man whose nickname is “Mr. Cavalier” - Austin Carr.
Thompson is just one of four players in team history – joining LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Brad Daugherty – as the only players to accumulate at least 5,000 points and 5,000 rebounds.
And in an age where durability’s a dirty word, Thompson once battled illness and injury to suit up for 447 straight games, playing in all 82 during his sophomore season and for the next three after that – a team record that’ll likely never be broken.
Drafted three spots after Kyrie Irving with the 4th pick in the 2011 Draft after a single season at Texas, Thompson grew up before our eyes – wearing a plain blue cardigan to his first press conference as a rookie and a fur coat and shades for the Christmas Day game against Golden State in 2017.
Over that time, Tristan gradually entrenched himself into the organization’s DNA and eventually became what then-head coach Tyronn Lue labeled “the heart and soul” of the team.
Thompson remained after LeBron’s departure in 2018 and responded by posting the two best statistical seasons of his career – averaging a double-double in each of his last two years in Cleveland. In that last year, Thompson was asked to come off the bench midway through the year. Instead of sulking, the 6-9, 256-pounder responded by going off for 27 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes in his second game as a reserve – drilling all three three-pointers he attempted in the process.
Thompson signed a free agent deal with Boston early in the 2020-21 season and after one year with the Celtics, was traded to Sacramento in a three-team deal in the 2021 offseason. He was moved again – from Sacramento to Indiana in the Tyrese Haliburton-Domantas Sabonis deal at the 2022 Deadline. After being waived soon after by Indiana, Tristan spent the rest of that season with Chicago.
Between those three teams – the Kings, Pacers and Bulls – in his last regular season in 2021-22, he played 57 total games. Last year, he saw action in six postseason contests with the Lakers after signing a deal on the final day of the regular season.
In his return to Cleveland, the 32-year-old certainly won’t be asked to do the heavy lifting that he did in his final two seasons here. The current Cavaliers have two of the best two-way big men in the Conference – and they’re just getting started. Jarrett Allen is 25 years old. Evan Mobley recently turned 22.
But that outstanding frontline duo also lacks big game experience and, as last year’s five-game exit from the Playoffs proved, could use some help on the offensive glass. And there aren’t many big men around today – (three of them, to be exact) – who know their way around that facet of the game better than Thompson, who ranks 4th among all active players, grabbing 2,404 offensive rebounds over the course of his career.
From a purely personal standpoint, Thompson is one of the league’s true good guys – a favorite with fans, teammates and the media. A tough guy on the hardwood, Tristan’s a teddy bear outside the lines.
Fans didn’t need many more reasons to get amped up for the upcoming season, but the Cavaliers brass gave them one on Tuesday afternoon, welcoming back a great player – and a great person – back to where it all began.