The waiting is over. Tristan Thompson officially is a member of the Sacramento Kings.
Nine days after the trade was confirmed, the Kings finalized the deal that sends Delon Wright to the Atlanta Hawks and Thompson to Sacramento in a three-team swap.
By NBA standards, the trade is near salary neutral for Kings general manager Monte McNair. Wright was set to make $8.5 million this season in the final year of his three-year, $28 million contract. Thompson is in the last year of a two-year, $19 million contract and will make $9.7 million this season.
Thompson started 43 games for the Boston Celtics last year after spending the first nine seasons of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On paper, the trade is slightly confusing, but the sequence of events leading up to the deal might shed some light on why Thompson is now a King.
Thompson was traded to the Kings the morning after the 2021 NBA Draft. The deal was done at that time, but with the moratorium just days away, the three teams decided to allow the transaction to happen after the new NBA season began on Aug. 2, which means the trade couldn’t be official until Aug. 6 at the earliest.
After spending Friday and parts of Saturday signing free agent contracts, the Kings, Celtics and Hawks finalized the trade on Saturday afternoon.
Why does timing matter?
At the time the trade was agreed upon, the Kings were about to enter the free agent window with only Marvin Bagley, Chimezie Metu and Damian Jones as the only bigs on the roster. McNair had no assurances that either Richaun Holmes or Alex Len would sign with the team.
After picking guard Davion Mitchell on draft night, the Kings were looking at a roster that included Wright, as well as De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Terence Davis (restricted free agent that has since re-signed) and Jahmi’us Ramsey in the backcourt.
Wright instantly became a movable spare part. The Kings needed a big man and Thompson’s salary matched up in a quick rebalance of the roster.
It took over a week to officially announce the trade and in that time, the Kings’ circumstances changed dramatically. Once you agree to a transaction, it’s tough to go back to the other teams and pull out of the deal.
How does Thompson fit on the roster?
While Thompson was labeled a “backup plan” in case Holmes left, he could be more than that, but it depends on how McNair finishes out the offseason rebuild.
For now, Holmes is the starter at center. Len is the 7-foot banger off the bench. Jones is still on the roster as organizational depth.
If Thompson is just a center, then he’s likely lost in the shuffle. He has played plenty of power forward in the past, which could come in handy in Sacramento, especially if the team holds onto Marvin Bagley for another season.
Bagley has missed 48 percent of his games over the last three seasons and if he’s coming back, the Kings need a player that can eat minutes in a pinch.
How does Thompson fit Kings style of play?
This is the million dollar question. Thompson doesn’t run the floor particularly well. He doesn’t shoot the 3-ball. He doesn’t play above the rim in the pick-and-roll. He doesn’t block shots. These are all needs in the Kings’ system.
What Thompson does is bring toughness, positional defense and rebounding. He’s a solid veteran with plenty of playoff experience, including a championship ring and four trips to the NBA Finals.
If he’s a “break glass in case of emergency” player, then that’s fine. If he’s a trade chip to achieve a different goal, that is also fine. But with Holmes, Len and Jones on the roster, it’s hard to see him getting meaningful minutes, at least at the five.
Thompson is an expensive piece to have sitting on the end of the bench, but one that could come in handy during an 82-game schedule. He’s also a very movable, $9.7 million expiring contract that could fit into another deal in the coming months.
Not every transaction makes sense on Day 1 and the sequence of events leading up to this trade matter. Thompson is just one of a handful of moves the Kings have made to transform the roster this offseason and it’s very likely that he’s not part of any long-term plan.
Whether McNair could have gotten more value for Wright will be the biggest question, but his immediate need was to add insurance. McNair made a move to provide depth at a position of need. There is likely another move out there that could rebalance the roster again.
If he’s needed, Thompson can fill in as a defender and rebounder. He’s a better fit than Hassan Whiteside was last season and he should be looked at in the same way that both Nemanja Bjelica and Jabari Parker were a season ago.