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CelticsBlog exit interview: Tristan Thompson is innocent

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Tristan Thompson didn’t always get a fair shake because of roster decisions, but when the lineups were freed from the shackles of the double-big lineup, he did his job.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s a good thing I didn’t write this exit interview over a week ago. A little under a month ago, Tristan Thompson was Boston’s starting center in a short but intense playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, including a standout game in Boston’s lone win in which he posted 19 points and 11 rebounds. A little over a week ago, he was the only reliable big on the roster (factoring in Rob Williams III’s health and Grant Williams inconsistencies in his second year).

A week later, Thompson is third in the big man pecking order for Boston after the acquisition of Al Horford, making Thompson a potentially expendable player and one of the few avenues for Boston to get meaningful upgrades without trading a core member. Or, he could be the third center on the roster. A lot of it depends on how sold the front office is on the viability of a Thompson-Horford pairing as a double-big lineup for a chunk of minutes each night.

But these are all questions for the future. If we’re looking back, double-big lineups is where it all starts for Tristan Thompson in green.

Well, actually, it started with Kim Kardashian congratulating Tristan Thompson on signing with the Celtics.

After that, to be honest, Thompson was set up for failure in the first half of the year. Paired with Daniel Theis for a good majority of the minutes over the first half of the year, Thompson was often put in a position to fail, but that wasn’t necessarily the fault of anyone besides roster construction. If you replace Theis with Thompson in the bubble against Miami, the Celtics most likely fare better against the more physical Bam Adebayo and Miami Heat, so I see the reasoning in signing him.

With Theis as a pending FA, it made a lot of sense to get off of the responsibility of letting him walk. It was after that point (and one bout with COVID-19 later) when Thompson really started to shine. Maybe some fans were too burnt out from the double-big lineups to see it, but after the trade deadline, Thompson was pretty much everything you could ask for.

His defense improved, his role on offense was much more effective, and he remains one of, if not the best screener on the team. It’s unfortunate that roster decisions and COVID held us back from seeing that version of him longer.

On the season, Tristan Thompson averaged 7.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He shot 51.8% from the field and 59.2% from the free-throw line. Per 100 possessions, he was a +0.9.

Against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, he averaged 10.4 points, 9.8 rebounds (5.8 offensive!!), 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks on 58.8% shooting from the field and 70.6% from the free-throw line. Elevated production for sure.

At this point in his career, Thompson is what he is. He’s a tough guy who grabs a lot of boards. There’s a lot of value in that; as I said earlier, that’s what Boston was missing against the Heat. But now behind Horford and Rob, despite what could be limited availability from both of those options throughout next season, does Thompson want to be the third big? A lot is riding on the potential fit between Thompson and the floor-stretching Horford, but honestly it might not even be worth experimenting with that, given how Horford’s last stint as a power forward went in Philly.

It’s still super early, but this roster is not what it will be at the end of August. If Boston isn’t in love with the idea of trotting out Horford-Rob-TT rotations nightly, Thompson is one of the few areas in which the Celtics could acquire some sort of upgrade elsewhere on the roster. As of right now, a backup/third guard is a big need behind Marcus Smart assuming Evan Fournier re-signs (which appears to be the plan after the Kemba Walker trade).

Another potential need is a big stretch forward who can play behind and with Jayson Tatum.

Thompson is set to make $9,720,900 next season on the tail end of a two-year, $18,978,900 contract. Targets who make this kind of money include Kyle Anderson, Tomas Satoransky, Zion Williamson (lol), Delon Wright, Tyus Jones, and Maxi Kleber. Now, are these teams in need of a Tristan Thompson? Maybe, maybe not. If there’s a Thompson trade coming up, it’ll be creative.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Or, the Celtics could just keep him if he’s comfortable being third on the big-man priority list.

No matter what lineup ends up on the floor in October, Tristan Thompson will have played a big role in getting there.