Tristan Thompson Lost Leverage by Not Signing Cavaliers' Qualifying Offer

By Casey Drottar
Joe Murphy-Getty Images
Joe Murphy-Getty Images

As we all know, the last remaining free agent on the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ agenda remains unsigned. After a lengthy standoff through the summer, Tristan Thompson – a restricted free agent – failed to sign a one-year qualifying offer before this past Thursday’s deadline. As a result, he’s officially a hold out, a fact hammered home by his absence from Friday’s team practice.

The Cavs and Thompson now essentially have no choice but to figure out an agreeable contract so he can get back on the court and prep for the upcoming season. It doesn’t seem like Thompson is interested in showing up to practice without a deal in tow, so while his teammates are chipping off rust and prepping to try and make another Finals run, he’ll be quietly keeping to himself at home.

Theoretically, it would appear as though Thompson is making a power move. He could have easily buckled to the temptation of avoiding the “outcast” label and showed up to practice. However, it seems he’s continuing to hold out in order to try and leverage the deal he wants from Cleveland.

Here’s a slight problem with this: by not signing the qualifying offer, Thompson actually lost a big chunk of what little leverage he used to have.

Remember, it was Thompson’s (and LeBron James’) agent Rich Paul who claimed that, if his client was forced to sign the qualifying offer, the upcoming season would be his last with the Cavs. It was definitely a bold claim, one clearly made to scare Cleveland into thinking it was losing the promising power forward.

However, as the deadline to sign the qualifying offer disappeared, so did the idea of Thompson bailing at the end of the year. So, while Thompson refusing to sign a qualifying offer officially made him a holdout, it also eliminated his biggest negotiating chip.

Now the Cavs know the idea of Thompson threatening to leave no longer affects how the contract talks go from here on out. He can keep trying to pose idle threats all he wants. At the same time, by letting the qualifying offer deadline pass, he essentially made more commitment towards staying in Cleveland.

Thompson has been pushing for a max contract ever since these negotiations started. By doing so as a restricted free agent, he didn’t have a ton to work with when it came to getting the upper hand over the Cavs. Due to the fact the team still owns his rights, it almost always appeared to have the power. This is why making a threat like bailing on Cleveland if all he got was a qualifying offer was a bold attempt to pressure the team.

Yet, as creative as this move was, Thompson just threw it to the wind by letting the qualifying offer come and go.

Now the Cavs have regained a sizable amount of power in these talks. They know that, while Thompson holding out is a refusal to rejoin the team ‘til he gets what he wants, they also know said holdout is a lot easier to do before the season starts. Once weeks start going by without Thompson getting his game checks, this holdout is going to be much more difficult to stand by.

Ever since Thompson’s camp made the threat of leaving after a one-year deal, I felt it was an empty tactic. Sure, it’s easy to say you’ll bail on the Cavs in mid-August, when you aren’t with your teammates on a daily basis. However, when camp starts and you have men you considered your friends looking at you as someone who already has one foot out the door, it’s a little tougher to keep standing by this approach.

Perhaps the fear of alienating his teammates was what eventually resulted in Thompson not signing the qualifying offer. Perhaps knowing the second he signed it, he’d be peppered with questions from the media asking whether or not he was going to stand by his claim of leaving at season’s end.

I don’t know what the reason is. All I know is, by letting this deadline pass, he lost his biggest bargaining chip.

Cleveland now has the most power in the negotiations. As a result, if Thompson still wants to push for a max deal, he better be prepared to wait a long time before getting back on the court.

The Cavs currently have no interest in giving Thompson the max, and now they know he’s out of moves. As a result, expect Thompson to be the one who ends up buckling in this standoff.

Casey Drottar is the Cleveland Beat Writer for Follow him on Twitter or “Like” him on Facebook

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