Tristan Thompson on signing with Lakers, mentoring players and being the next Michael Strahan (2024)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Throughout the first half of the Lakers’ Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference first-round series, new Laker addition Tristan Thompson was hyping Anthony Davis up about his defense in pick-and-roll coverages from the bench.

Set the tone early. Dominate them. They can’t score against you.

During a timeout in the first half, Davis, who churned out seven blocks and three steals amid one of the best defensive performances in NBA playoff history, approached Thompson and thanked him.


Thank you for talking to me. I appreciate that. I need that. I need someone to get on me.

Eight months earlier, Thompson wasn’t sure if another NBA opportunity was coming this season — or ever again.

After not signing with an NBA team during the offseason, the 12-year veteran refused to consider retirement, believing there was a chance that a playoff team would need big-man depth and a positive locker-room presence at some point.

In late March, Thompson, 32, was presented with an opportunity to work out for the Lakers. A couple of weeks later, he signed with them on the final day of the regular season. Los Angeles wanted an extra big man who could serve as a mentor to their younger bigs (Mo Bamba and Wenyen Gabriel), hold their two superstars accountable and set a positive tone in the locker room. Thompson’s close relationship with LeBron James and championship experience were the cherries on top.

“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. “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?”

Over the course of the season, Thompson has been training twice a day, five days a week (Monday through Friday). At 6 a.m., he would lift weights with his strength trainer, Kevin Kevorkian. Then at 8 a.m., he’d train with his basketball trainer, Chris Johnson.

Thompson would wrap by noon, spending the rest of the day with his children and watching basketball games at his home in Hidden Hills, Calif. The team Thompson watched most closely was the one in his backyard: the Lakers.


“I was watching all their games,” Thompson said. “Studied their offensive, defensive schemes very heavily just because it was always a situation that I wanted to be a part of.”

When Thompson worked out for the Lakers in late March, he felt he was ready.

The workout featured about an hour of big-man-centric drills, including floaters and pick-and-roll finishes — “stuff that I’ve been doing for the last eight months in my workout.” Thompson believed he showed Los Angeles that he was still in game shape despite his hiatus.

Thompson heard positive feedback from the Lakers and was ready to sign immediately. But the Lakers weren’t in a rush to add another player, so Thompson had no choice but to remain patient. Thompson said he refrained from lobbying James or the Lakers’ key decision-makers for a spot on the team.

“Me and LeBron have our own personal relationship for years — for over a decade,” Thompson said. “So we’d always get together and grab dinner. But it was always just, he’s my brother before anything else. He’s my brother before basketball. So I just always told him, ‘I’m gonna stay ready. And if the opportunity comes, I’m ready to go.'”

On Easter morning, Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, called him with the good news: the Lakers were going to sign him for the rest of the season. Thompson, who was with his family for the holiday, was ecstatic to be back in the NBA.

“It was the best Easter basket gift you can get, right?” Thompson said. “It was a blessing. … I told everyone, and everyone was excited, especially for the purple and gold.”

When Thompson joined the team and met with head coach Darvin Ham, Ham told him he envisioned Thompson serving a similar function to former Laker Patrick Beverley as a vocal presence who wasn’t afraid to call out James and Davis, as well as the rest of the locker room. Ham gave Thompson the green light to speak up whenever he deems necessary.


“’I don’t want you to hesitate and feel like you’re the new guy,’” Ham told The Athletic of his initial meeting with Thompson. “‘We’re going into a realm that a lot of these guys haven’t been in, in terms of playoff basketball. I want you to use your voice, your know-how. Talk it through with them.’ … He’s checked every box. His leadership has been phenomenal.”

Thompson has a firsthand experience with a similar situation. Late in the 2015-16 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed veteran Dahntay Jones on the final day of the regular season. Jones didn’t play much throughout the Cavs’ championship run, but was a positive locker-room presence, pumping up his teammates and holding them accountable.

That’s the blueprint Thompson is using with the Lakers.

“I’m a sponge. I remember everything,” Thompson said. “I remember how his approach was, his demeanor, and how much he was helpful to us. I mean, I think it was Game 3, he had five points and caused Draymond to get his third foul in the first half, which was huge for us. So, like, little things like that change the whole series. So I just got that same approach.”

Thompson has yet to play a minute for Los Angeles, and is technically the fourth-string center behind Davis, Gabriel and Bamba (and possibly even lower on the depth chart, with the Lakers deploying James and Hachimura at center during the playoffs).

But he isn’t concerned with playing time. He wants to be a “star in his role” as a team leader.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on on the court,” Thompson said. “So, it’s on me on the sidelines and stuff that I notice to put in their ear. If I help them become one percent better, it helps our team be better. And that’s part of my role being here, is how can I help this team get one percent better?”

Those around the team have consistently mentioned Thompson’s positivity. There’s a joyfulness to his vibe — something the Lakers’ locker room has needed this season.


If the Lakers find themselves in a position in which they need to use Thompson during the playoffs, Ham said he and the coaching staff — which includes Chris Jent, who worked out Thompson in Cleveland during the draft process — would trust Thompson “without question.”

“If we had to throw him out there, myself, my coaching staff, 1,000 percent confidence in him,” Ham said.

One of the players who Thompson has already impacted is Gabriel, who has noticed some of Thompson’s leadership tidbits. The two have battled during practice and in the Lakers’ stay-ready groups, which are held after practices for players who aren’t in the rotation.

“He’s been to where I want to be,” Gabriel told The Athletic. “When he speaks, it makes sense. … It doesn’t feel like he’s trying to demean you or break you down. When he’s saying something, it’s always constructive. He’s not trying to take away from anybody. He’s coming here trying to add to everything.”

There were two benefits to Thomspon’s time away from basketball this season.

First, Thompson was able to spend more time with his children, which he wasn’t able to do as much during the NBA season. He drove his children to and from school, attended his son’s recital, and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family for the first time.

“Those are things that I’ve never got to experience to a full extent,” Thomspon said. “I made the best out of it. And I enjoyed it. There’s nothing like being a father, being a parent. So I enjoyed every minute of it.”

And second, during Thompson’s break, he started working for ESPN as an NBA analyst, testing out his post-NBA career ambitions.

“I want to be the next Michael Strahan,” Thompson said. “He’s at the mountaintop for all athletes that are post-career, that have accomplished so much. He accomplished a lot being a Super Bowl champion but off the field, being able to do FOX, “Good Morning America”, “Michael and Kelly,” that’s the highest of highs that you can achieve as an athlete post-career. And I want to position myself to be able to do the same thing.


“So the same way we look up to LeBron as the greatest of all time, I look at Michael Strahan as the greatest of all time off the court as a professional athlete making that transition — and that’s what I want to do.”

Thompson credited ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Richard Jefferson (a former teammate) and Kendrick Perkins (also a former teammate) for helping him improve as an analyst and on-camera personality.

“It was fun,” Thompson said. “I’m so grateful for ESPN getting the opportunity to do that. I loved each and every minute of it. I approach the TV, the opportunity, just like basketball. Came in early, watched film. … I’ve heard nothing but great reviews about how I did so it’s definitely an area that I want to explore more when that time comes.”

In the meantime, Thompson is embracing his time with the Lakers — being back in a locker room, the camaraderie with teammates, the highs and lows of the playoff atmosphere.

“It’s been great,” Thompson said. “Everyone’s been open arms.”

Ahead of Game 2, which the Lakers lost to the Grizzlies. 103-93, despite Memphis missing superstar point guard Ja Morant, Thompson was on Davis again — this time about his shot-blocking.

You set the standard. Seven blocks? Now you can’t get fewer than three.

“Whether from (D’Angelo Russell) all the way down to Scotty (Pippen) Jr., I’m here to help everyone,” Thompson said.

(Photo of Tristan Thompson: Jim Poorten / NBAE via Getty Images)

As an expert in basketball dynamics, particularly in team composition, player dynamics, and strategic insights, I can offer a comprehensive breakdown of the concepts presented in the provided article.

1. Tristan Thompson's Role and Impact:

  • Expertise: Tristan Thompson, a 12-year NBA veteran, joined the Los Angeles Lakers late in the season, providing valuable insights, mentorship, and positive energy to the team.
  • Evidence: Thompson's experience, as mentioned in the article, highlights his impactful presence on the bench, offering defensive advice to Anthony Davis during Game 1.

2. Thompson's Journey to the Lakers:

  • Expertise: The article discusses Thompson's journey back to the NBA after facing uncertainty during the offseason.
  • Evidence: Thompson remained committed to staying in shape, training twice a day, five days a week, showcasing his determination and readiness for a potential opportunity.

3. Team Composition and Leadership:

  • Expertise: Thompson was brought in not just for his playing abilities but as a leader and mentor to the younger big men on the team.
  • Evidence: The Lakers sought high character and positive locker room presence, and Thompson's close relationship with LeBron James and championship experience played a crucial role in his signing.

4. Thompson's Preparation and Workout:

  • Expertise: Thompson's dedication to staying in shape and readiness for the Lakers is discussed.
  • Evidence: His detailed workout routine, including big-man-centric drills, showcased his commitment and convinced the Lakers of his game-ready condition.

5. Thompson's Leadership Style:

  • Expertise: Thompson's role is not only about playing time but being a vocal leader and providing guidance to teammates.
  • Evidence: Coach Darvin Ham emphasized Thompson's role as a vocal presence similar to Patrick Beverley, encouraging him to use his leadership and experience during crucial playoff moments.

6. Similarities to Past NBA Scenarios:

  • Expertise: Thompson draws parallels to his current situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers' signing of Dahntay Jones in the 2015-16 season.
  • Evidence: Jones, despite limited playing time, was a positive influence in the locker room during the Cavs' championship run, providing a blueprint for Thompson's role with the Lakers.

7. Thompson's Positive Impact on Teammates:

  • Expertise: Thompson's positivity and leadership are highlighted as essential for team morale.
  • Evidence: Teammates, including Wenyen Gabriel, acknowledge Thompson's constructive leadership style and the positive impact it has on the team.

8. Thompson's Off-Court Ventures:

  • Expertise: The article touches on Thompson's off-court activities, including his time with family and his role as an NBA analyst for ESPN.
  • Evidence: Thompson's involvement with ESPN as an analyst showcases his ambitions beyond playing basketball, with aspirations to follow the post-NBA career path of Michael Strahan.

9. Post-NBA Career Aspirations:

  • Expertise: Thompson expresses a desire to transition into a successful post-NBA career, citing Michael Strahan as a role model.
  • Evidence: His engagement with ESPN and the positive feedback received indicate a potential avenue for a successful career after retiring from professional basketball.

In conclusion, Tristan Thompson's role with the Los Angeles Lakers goes beyond on-court contributions, emphasizing leadership, mentorship, and a positive locker room presence, making him a valuable asset in their playoff journey.

Tristan Thompson on signing with Lakers, mentoring players and being the next Michael Strahan (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated:

Views: 6103

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.