NBA star is $47m worth of uselessness
NBA star Tristan Thompson has hit a new low - and it has nothing to do with his off-the-court cheating allegations with Khloe Kardashian.
The once-important piece of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Finals runs, Thompson, a former lottery pick, was benched in the 100-97 Game 2 Eastern Conference first-round win against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday (AEST). Thompson, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic were the only Cavaliers players to not register a single minute of game time.
Osman and Zizic aren't shocking exclusions - the duo are both young Europeans with zero playoff experience - which makes Thompson's benching pretty telling. Especially considering his relationship with LeBron James, who essentially orchestrated Thompson's five-year, $106 million extension in 2015, when he publicly pushed for a Thompson contract while the two shared an agent.
In 2015, it seemed like a win-win - the Cavaliers were winning and James was happy. Now Thompson is cemented on the Cavs' bench, and that contract will saddle the Cavaliers' immediate future whether James is a part of it or not. The Cavaliers owe him $47 million over the next two years before he's set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
Prior to the playoffs, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said he envisioned using a deep, 10-man bench for the playoffs, which would seemingly make Thompson, a member of the Cavs' last four Finals runs, an option off the bench, especially with his playoff experience. However, the extended bench doesn't reach Thompson, with his only appearance coming in two garbage minutes in the 98-80 Game 1 loss to Indiana.
How has Thompson become a non-factor? He endured his first injury-marred season in the NBA, missing 29 games due to a calf muscle injury and his most recent ankle sprain. Thompson told The Athletic he would "likely never be 100 per cent healthy ever again" in November after he revealed he tore a muscle in his calf.
Before starting 78 games last season, Thompson was an energetic big who bruises coming off the bench. He played big minutes at a demanding position while averaging nearly nine rebounds per game the last five seasons. He never justified being selected No. 4 overall in the 2011 draft, but he did enough to be a valuable piece on a championship-calibre team.
Even with the slow start this season, the Cavaliers likely thought Thompson would jump-start his season when fully healthy, which aligned right when the team gutted dead weight at the trading deadline by acquiring intriguing, yet unproven, younger pieces who would open minutes for Thompson yet again.
However, that didn't materialise. Aside from the ankle sprain, Lue gave Thompson a shot but ultimately stuck with Jeff Green and eventually Larry Nance Jr, who pushed Thompson from the Cavs' frontcourt to the end of the pine.
Thompson's benching is part of Lue pushing Kevin Love to the starting centre position, but it's also largely attributed to his regression in nearly every statistical category, posting a career low in points (5.8 per game) and minutes (20.2 per game) while putting up his lowest rebounding total (6.6 per game) since his rookie season in 2011-12.