In the wake of the trade deadline, the NBA’s buyout market has been active. The Rockets doubled down on their no-center system and signed big veteran wings Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll. Markieff Morris went to the Lakers just days after Los Angeles’ twin team traded for his twin brother. Speaking of outspoken wildcards going to the Clippers, they added needed depth at point guard with Reggie Jackson. Forwards Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hit the lottery, going from the rags of the Charlotte Hornets to the riches of the Bucks and Mavericks, respectively.
The March 1 buyout deadline is coming up, but who’s left on the market that could actually find minutes on a contender? There’s really just one guy; I’ll give you a few hints. He’s a big man, he’s 28 years old and he has a championship ring. Does that sound too good to be true? Well, don’t get too excited, because it’s Tristan Thompson.
The Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond at the trade deadline, edging Thompson out of his primary position and making him available. Though he isn’t the most glamorous player in the league, Thompson can add a lot to a championship contender. He has proven to be healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. He’s averaging over 30 minutes per game, missing just four of the Cavaliers’ games this season.
The Cavs have been in turmoil with the whole firing their head coach in his first season. They are anchored at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but Thompson is posting career-highs in points (12.2), rebounds (10.2) and assists (2.1) per game. Plus, he has plenty of playoff experience from his years with LeBron James. Any team with playoff aspirations in need of a quality, big-bodied, traditional center would be happy to add Thompson. So, who is out there hoping to see the Cavaliers pull the trigger and buy Thompson out?
The Rockets are taking the small-ball era to the next level, inventing “micro-ball.” They traded away Clint Capela and added Robert Covington, Green and Carroll to their stock of wings that already consisted of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and Thabo Sefolosha. They’ve been hoarding wings with incredible size that can stretch the floor to throw out into lineups with James Harden and Russell Westbrook in lieu of a traditional center. They still have Tyson Chandler, but at this stage in his career, he can’t be relied on to play many quality playoff minutes.
So why would a team that just traded away a traditional center want to add another one? Well, they’d do it to simply hedge their bet on their unconventional system. If the standings stay the way that they are through March and the first half of April, the Rockets will draw a first round playoff matchup with the Jazz and a potential second round matchup with the Lakers. Both teams have All-Star big men in Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis, with the Lakers also able to pair Davis with titans Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and, oh yeah, LeBron James.
If the Rockets get absolutely bodied by these colossus teams when their perimeter centric, drive-and-kick system fails, Thompson will allow them to change their strategy mid-series back to a more traditional style. Is Gobert effortlessly rolling to the rim? Davis doing whatever he wants to Covington and Tucker? LeBron throwing lob after lob to Howard and McGee? Thompson provides a big body with good instincts near the basket that can prevent these things from happening.
He wouldn’t have the large salary against the cap that Capela had, so there won’t be pressure to give him minutes if their 3-pointers are falling. But he’ll give Houston the flexibility to adjust if they aren’t.
Tristan Thompson : 10 points (5-8 shooting), 11 rebounds, 4 assists & 2 blocks in 26 minutes off the bench pic.twitter.com/vftbEdmGZe
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) February 22, 2020
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have two players on their roster over 6-foot-8-inches. They have the 22-year-old 7-footer Ivica Zubac, who plays 17.9 minutes per game, and Mfiondu Kabengele, who bounces back and forth from the G-League. Like the Rockets, the Clippers are in desperate need of some height.
Though the lumbering big man Zubac is the starter, the Clippers play Montrezl Harrell 28.2 minutes per game and opt to close out games with the 6-foot-7 center. They take pride in their ability to put totally switchable lineups on the court, with defensive specialist Patrick Beverley, lockdown superstar wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and other 6-foot-8 forwards like Maurice Harkless, Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green. But for all of the great defenders that they can have on the court at once, how many of them are big enough to man-up Davis?
Aside from AD, who is the the scariest matchup nightmare for the Clippers, the Western Conference playoffs will also feature Gobert (7-foot-1), Nikola Jokic (7-foot), Steven Adams (7-foot) and Kristaps Porzingis (7-foot-3). Thompson is only 6-foot-9, but he plays much bigger. If signed by the Clippers, he’d already lead the team in rebounds per game by over 2.5.
The Clippers have been sliding lately, losing four of their last six. Though they have a slew of talent with Leonard, George, Harrell, Beverley and Lou Williams, they still seem a piece away. That piece is a player like Thompson.
Tristan Thompson makes a smart touch pass to set up Kevin Love for your Heads Up Play of the Day! pic.twitter.com/p7cUUTBaZT
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 25, 2020
The Celtics have needed a better center all season long. At the trade deadline, people saw it as a likely destination for Drummond and Capela, but they were dealt elsewhere. It is currently unclear whether Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge are content rolling with Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams (when healthy). Aside from the backup point guard spot with Kemba Walker missing time with a sore knee, center is clearly their biggest positional need.
Like the Clippers, it feels like the Celtics are just a piece away. Jayson Tatum is playing his best basketball ever, Walker has slid into Kyrie Irving’s spot and fixed the chemistry issues with equal-or-better production, Jaylen Brown has shaken off the label of “overpaid,” Gordon Hayward has proven to remain valuable post-compound fracture and Marcus Smart has developed his offensive game enough to be a threat on that end of the floor. Theis and Kanter have been fine at best in the center role, and Robert Williams hasn’t been healthy enough to establish himself minutes. Thompson could be the missing piece for a team lacking a quality five.