Why is Tristan Thompson on the Lakers? LeBron James relationship, veteran leadership among reasons for signing
Just a couple of months ago, it looked likely Tristan Thompson had played his last NBA game.
The veteran big man was without a team for the entire season. He spent the 2021-22 campaign bouncing around between three different teams; the Kings, the Pacers and finally the Bulls. At 32 years old, it seemed his time in the league had reached its end.
Then, on the final day of the regular season, he received the chance he had been waiting for. The Lakers were choosing to sign him for the rest of the season as they eyed a playoff run.
Fast forward a little over a month, and Thompson now has the chance to be a part of a memorable championship run. But what did Los Angeles see in Thompson that prompted them to sign him up?
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Why is Tristan Thompson on the Lakers?
Head coach Darvin Ham gave two reasons when asked why the team brought in Thompson: playoff experience and locker room presence.
"With Tristan... just to have backup in case of an injury, and what he brings: his spirit, his positivity, as well [as] the way he's played," Ham told reporters. "Years and years [of] championship-level basketball, championship pedigree. Great guy to be around, great teammate. Hear nothing but great things about him."
Darvin Ham discusses the new additions of Tristan Thompson and Shaq Harrison. pic.twitter.com/wzCX1qdNmj— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) April 9, 2023
Barring some disastrous Lakers injuries, there's a chance Thompson won't see the floor in a meaningful situation. He is currently listed as the fourth-string center behind Anthony Davis, Wenyen Gabriel and Mo Bamba.
Thompson knew that when he signed with the team. He has embraced his role as a positive voice on and off the court as Los Angeles looks to keep an impressive playoff run going.
“Whenever you’re adding a guy late season, it’s about high character and someone that can mesh a locker room,” Thompson told The Athletic in April. “Someone that’s not going to be a black plague or bring the morale down. It’s not about, ‘Hey, can you get the ball on the block and score 15 points?’
“No, the team dynamic is already set. Especially a team like this. They already have a foundation. It’s how can you be a valuable asset to this team to move forward?”
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However, that doesn't mean he won't be ready if called upon. Throughout the season, he balanced his role as an analyst on ESPN with daily training to keep himself in shape and capable of contributing on the floor.
“If we had to throw him out there, myself, my coaching staff, 1,000 percent confidence in him,” Ham said.
Thompson also has a very close relationship with Lakers superstar LeBron James. The two played together for four seasons in Cleveland between 2014 and 2018, which coincided with four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. They lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy together in 2016 after earning the Cavaliers their first-ever title.
“Me and Bron’s connection go way bigger than basketball,” Thompson told Andscape. “I’ve known him since [I was] 17, so I’ve always had a crazy respect for him. There’s a brotherhood that’s deep. So, I just feel like he knows how to bring the best out of me, and I just know what he wants from a center or a veteran.
“For me, it’s however I can help this team, whether it’s my voice, coming into practice, helping the young guys learn how to be pros, holding our veterans accountable, [or] just giving whatever I’ve learned throughout the years. However I can help this team get to where they want to get to, that’s my purpose as well.”
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Thompson and the Lakers have their hands full in the Western Conference Finals as they take on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. But after two impressive series wins, they are within sight of a truly memorable championship run — one that Thompson never thought he'd get to experience again.