The Boston Celtics have already made several big moves this offseason after a disappointing 2020-21, first with a front office shakeup that led to Brad Stevens taking the GM reins and then a trade that sent Kemba Walker to the Thunder in exchange for Al Horford and Moses Brown. The trade is very likely not the last as Stevens attempts to reconfigure a roster that fell far short of expectations, even with the acknowledgement that injuries played a large role in determining the team's success.
One player who will probably be on the move is Tristan Thompson. Thompson had a brutal start to the season, which makes sense given he hadn't played in nine months after missing the bubble and had zero training camp time to acclimate to new schemes. Although he wasn't exactly great once he did settle in. Still, Thompson is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league but lost a step defensively and probably shouldn't be a starting center for a contender going forward.
Thompson will likely be on the move one way or another for two reasons. One, his $9 million salary is the easiest of all the salaries on Boston's books to move. Two, the emergence of Robert Williams last season coupled with the two frontcourt additions of Horford and Brown in the Walker trade means Thompson will be the odd man out when the season start. As mentioned above, his skillset has diminished and he won't be a highly-sought commodity, but a high-energy center coming off the bench for a reasonable sum is the kind of marginal addition that can push a team from very good to great.
With all that in mind, here are four possible trade destinations for Thompson.
The Kings are in win-now mode as the clock on De'Aaron Fox continues to tick and Luke Walton gets one final shot at making the playoffs with this core. Richaun Holmes is as solid as they come at the five but the Kings had to rotate Hassan Whiteside and Damian Jones as his backups, which is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. They also have an exact salary match in the form of Delon Wright to send to Boston in exchange for Thompson and the valuable 20 minutes a game he could bring to the floor.
The Celtics could use another reliable ballhandler to come off the bench, and Wright is a better defender than current backup PG Payton Pritchard, which gives whoever will coach the team some lineup flexibility. Wright was decent for the Kings but Tyrese Haliburton has proved himself good enough to deserve the majority of touches when Fox is off the floor. The only real hold-up would be if Sacramento is super dedicated to the Marvin Bagley At The Five experiment, but his injury history proves he can't be counted on to stay on the floor and how good he'd be in that role is still up in the air. This is an easy swap and makes sense for both sides.
Los Angeles Lakers
Now here's an interesting idea. Thompson is making the same amount as Montrezl Harrell next season. Harrell played only 39 minutes in the Lakers' first-round loss to the Suns and clearly lost the trust of the coaching staff to handle his assignments defensively. There's a very real possibility Marc Gasol does not return to the purple and gold next season, even though he's under contract for the league minimum. Anthony Davis has made it clear that he'd prefer to play power forward until the playoffs, so the Lakers need guys to soak up minutes at the five over the 82-game marathon leading up to the big games.
Thompson is perfect for exactly that. He's a LeBron guy and a Klutch client. Across the country, Harrell would give Boston a source of points when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are off the floor, which was the biggest issue facing the team last season. The biggest roadblock is the presence of Andre Drummond and if the Lakers really do plan on signing him to a long-term deal, but even if they follow through on that, swapping Harrell out for Thompson would still fulfill the same goal of making sure Davis is in as good shape as possible for the postseason for the same price. There is a chance Harrell declines his player option and becomes a free agent again, but that doesn't seem terribly likely given he didn't exactly outplay his salary last year.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are facing a franchise-altering offseason and it's impossible to predict what path they will go down. But from where we currently stand, trading for Thompson makes sense. Jusuf Nurkic is an impending free agent and while he has been important for the team his skillset is not irreplaceable. Thompson would be a cost-controlled option for one year that does essentially the same thing defensively, and his lack of creation on offense is compensated by his ability to crash the boards.
Portland also did not use Derrick Jones Jr. at all in the playoffs and he seems to be the odd man out in the rotation. Boston needs wing help in a big way and Jones is steady if unspectacular on both ends of the court. The two players can be traded straight-up. Jones would need to opt into his player option for the year to make it happen, but if he does both sides would emerge happy.
The Bulls do not necessarily need another center with Nikola Vucevic on a big deal for the next few years. But they do need frontcourt depth with the uncertain future of Lauri Markkanen and Daniel Theis hitting free agency. Thompson would bring that at a reasonable rate and, most importantly, a contract that expires after next season. Cap flexibility will be in extremely short supply in the Windy City for the foreseeable future and getting Thompson's production without needing to commit past 2022 is an opportunity the front office should jump on.
In return, Chicago would give up Al-Farouq Aminu to give Boston the aforementioned wing depth they lack. Aminu's salary works in a one-to-one deal for Thompson and giving him up would not help the Bulls' defensive woes, but keeping him does not fix them, either. Like Thompson, his contract will be expiring after next season, but Chicago will have an easier time replacing his minutes than finding someone effective to spell Vucevic or go small-ball when he's off the floor. Boston will happily take as many as these quasi three-and-D defenders as they can find.