By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Center Tristan Thompson had a feeling that Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics were going to come calling in free agency.
“A coach told me [that] the team you have a lot of success against or always beat up against in the playoffs, they usually want you to join their side when you’re available or a free agent,” Thompson, whose Cavs bumped the Celtics out of the playoffs three times during his nine-season run in Cleveland, said with a grin. “And I’ve always heard the rumblings about the Celtics [being] interested in me.”
But Thompson’s connection to the Celtics went beyond rumblings.
Thompson has had a relationship with Boston’s Jaylen Brown since Brown was drafted into the NBA in 2016. Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum reached out to Thompson after the trade deadline and tried pitching him on Boston. And Kemba Walker and Thompson played against one another in high school, with Walker at Rice High and Thompson at St. Benedict’s. (Walker, of course, was among those who reached out to Thompson when he hit free agency.)
The 6-foot-9 big also received an encouraging call from Ainge.
“Ainge called me and told me how much he loves my game [and] how I can be a missing piece to what they’re trying to accomplish,” Thompson revealed. “It felt like I was wanted. It felt like they really wanted me to be part of what they’re trying to accomplish.
“It was a pretty easy decision.”
Thompson, due $19 million over the next two seasons on his deal with the C’s, also saw an opportunity to play a pivotal role on a youthful team that appears to be on the cusp of reaching their ceiling.
“What really attracted me to the Celtics is how young and talented these guys — Jaylen, Jayson, even [Marcus] Smart — are,” Thompson offered. “I always remember when Kyrie and Gordon were out [in 2018] and you had all these young guys; Tatum was a rookie, [Brown] was in his second year, and Smart was in his third or fourth year. For them to take [the Cavaliers] to Game 7 at such a young age, that’s a promising ball club.”
And part of a center group featuring Daniel Theis and Robert Williams II — and with Grant Williams and two-way talent Tacko Fall as center options if need be — Thompson feels like a talent who can emerge as the Celtics’ top option at the five. His 12 points per game last year were a career-high, and his 10.1 rebounds were just behind the career-best 10.2 he averaged in the 2018-19 season. Those averages would’ve been tops among all Boston centers in 2019-20, and his 12.1 rebounds per 36 minutes of play would’ve been tops among all C’s regulars not named Enes Kanter (15.8) last year.
Thompson also had that desperately-needed postseason experience on his number, as a member of the Cavalier squads that went to four straight NBA Finals, and averaging a double-double in Cleveland’s seven-game series in the 2016 NBA Finals.
At the very worst, Thompson is a more experienced, accomplished Kanter. And he’s ready to embrace his role like only he can.
“My energy’s gonna ignite the team,” Thompson said. “I gotta be the motor to get the team going. I’ve always had that role, and I’ve been that way since Day 1. Smart is a bulldog and he’s done a great job not backing down from anyone, and I think for me now at the big position, I’m gonna do the same thing. I’m gonna bring that same grit and toughness.”
That seems to be what the ask from Thompson is going to be, too, as Thompson noted that his first conversation with head coach Brad Stevens had similar vibes. And it’s exactly what you should’ve expected given Thompson’s battle-tested resume and after what the Celtics went through in their third-round struggles with Miami’s Bam Adebayo.
“I’m gonna play harder than whoever I’m going against,” Thompson said. “And I think that’s contagious.
“This is the best decision for me in my career at the point I’m at — to join a team that’s trying to do something special. So if I can get them over that hump, that’d be an honor.”