The above photo is of Tristan Thompson with the Cavaliers in November 2012. Photo credit: Erik Drost – Flickr. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
By Lekan Afolabi
PRIDE Sports Columnist
The 2015/2016 NBA regular season will mark the twentieth season for the Toronto Raptors in the league. In those twenty years, the Raptors have made an indelible impact on the basketball landscape of the city.
The general opinion on how the upcoming season for the Raptors should unfold is that the team should have on-court improvements – especially when it comes to the roster. Addressing key areas such as rebounding and defense should be on the top of the list.
Another popular sentiment regarding good additions for the team, is to have a Canadian-born player on the roster. One who addresses the rebounding and defensive integrity the team is seeking; one who brings consistent and relentless energy on the boards.
The one player who comes to mind is Tristan Thompson.
At 24, Thompson is a young player with an abundance of potential and the drive and work ethic to merge potential with performance.
Adding him would be amazing for a Raptors team that seems to finally be heading in the right direction, since the years when Vincent Lamar Carter was a Raptor – from 1998 to 2004.
During those years, Thompson was just another impressionable kid from Toronto who got to witness and experience, some of the most electrifying basketball displays the league has ever seen.
The impact of those years is considered by most, to have been the catalyst for the rise in the number of kids who chose basketball over other sports.
‘The Carter impact’ – along with the team itself – had a hand in how more and more outdoor basketball courts sprouted up in underserved neighborhoods like Jane and Finch, and in affluent ones like Forest Hill.
Along the way, some of these impressionable kids went from being malleable young fans to basketball players themselves. They started to yearn to play on the same platform which they previous thought was unreachable.
For Thompson and other young NBA players from Toronto and surrounding areas, the outdoor courts were the place they went to practice moves that previously, they had only seen from the Raptors and other NBA teams.
It was only a matter of time before the outdoor courts were no longer able to contain the ambitions that were indirectly birthed by their hometown team.
This is where the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) circuit came into play. The AAU consisted of traveling youth teams that amalgamated the top high school basketball players from different teams, in the United States. It was only a matter of time that Canadian kids started moving across the border to play on these teams.
Another talent-gathering system in the United States is the Preparatory (Prep) Schools. These typically are private schools that historically prepare students for college – the basketball version is somewhat similar, in that it also prepares student athletes for college but, with a ‘basketball-at-the-next-level’ focus.
Thompson attended Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School for about two and a half years. He later switched to another powerhouse school – Findlay Prep – where a fellow Torontonian, Cory Joseph, was attending.
Thompson, who stands tall at six feet nine inches in shoes, was drafted out of the University of Texas by the Cleveland Cavaliers. In his lone year with the Longhorns, before declaring for the NBA Draft, he averaged thirteen points and almost eight rebounds per game. He has developed from a kid who was only four-years-old when Toronto got the Raptors, to playing an instrumental role in the redefinition of Canadian basketball. From AAU and Prep teams … to college or university across the border … to the NBA … and now the NBA Finals.
Today, Thompson is not only starting for the Cavaliers in the Finals but he has earned the utmost respect from his peers, and from one of the greatest basketball players of this generation, LeBron James.
Could this be the beginning of what might just be a stellar career for Thompson?
All signs point in that direction, especially with the way Thompson has been playing throughout the playoffs. After averaging eight points and eight rebounds per game during the regular season, he has maintained his scoring output while increasing his rebounding average to 10 per game. His timely defense are at times immeasurable by his stats output. Watch him as the Finals unfold, and it is very clear that he is just scratching the surface of what should be an impressive career.
Prior to this ongoing impressive run in the playoffs, Thompson was offered a four year, $52 million contract extension to stay in a Cavaliers uniform beyond next season. He rejected the offer because he felt, as a restricted free agent, he could command more from other teams.
What this means is that he took a gamble – he bet ted on himself, believing that he is worth more on the open market. His status as a restricted free agent meant that any team can present him with a contract – an offer sheet – and it is up to the Cavaliers to match it. This practice is a very common one used by many NBA players, as it is an option afforded to them by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the league, its owners and the players union.
It is one thing to take such a presumed gamble on yourself but it is another to have it work out almost perfectly. His post-season game speaks for itself – adding leverage to what most people see as an impending larger payday. To top it off, Thompson is getting endorsements from the best player in the league. As reported by ESPN reporter, Dave McMenamin, James stated:
“Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career… there’s no reason why he shouldn’t.”
It should be noted that Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, is also James’s agent. Somehow, though, the comment in support of Thompson does not seem overstated, to say the least, when one includes Thompson’s current ironman streak of playing in 340-plus straight games.
So, how can the Toronto Raptors bring home one of the city’s native sons? One might joke that since James himself went back home to Cleveland, Thompson can be one of the handful of really good Canadian-born NBA players to play for their home team.
Thompson, in a Raptors uniform for the team’s twentieth season celebration, would be great but I am sure most Torontonians will understand if he decides to stay in Cleveland and play with the King.
Whether it is in a Cavaliers or Raptors jersey, regardless, Toronto is proud of Tristan Thompson.