Tristan Thompson will be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Cavs can match any offer he receives. Coming off the heels of his inspired play during these playoffs in the absence of injured forward Kevin Love, it’s likely he’ll have a lot of suitors. But if Lebron James has anything to do with it, he’ll try to keep Thompson in a Cavaliers uniform for the foreseeable future. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
“Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career,” James said a day after Thompson had a game-saving block in regulation followed by a game-clinching offensive rebound and kickout to James for 3 in Cleveland’s 114-111 overtime win against Atlanta in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.”
It should be noted the LeBron and Thompson share the same agent, Rich Paul.
Last fall, Thompson turned down a massive four-year, $52 million contract extension in hopes of earning more money this summer. Now, it’s looking more and more like that’s precisely what will happen. Hedging your bets in these scenarios is always dicey, considering how many different ways it can go wrong, whether because of injury, stasis, or regression. But then, of course, there are examples like the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, who turned down a similarly large extension and went on to win the Most Improved Player award and all but ensure himself a max deal this offseason.
And something approaching a max deal is clearly what Thompson and his camp are eyeing from Cleveland this summer. The question is whether the Cavs have the resources to earmark so much cap space, especially as they face the prospect of retaining both LeBron and Love for what will likely be max deals as well.
Which begs the question as to whether Thompson — who averaged 8.5 points and eight rebounds per game this season — is worth max money. Granted, those regular season numbers were with him coming off the bench, and he’s seen a significant uptick in minutes since the Love injury in the opening round. He’s also made the most of the opportunity by putting up four double-doubles and becoming one of the best offensive rebounders of the postseason.
But the question remains as to whether a player of Thompson’s caliber merits such a gargantuan contract. It also speaks to the current climate of big men and the Byzantine logic involved in attempting to quantify their worth in the modern NBA.
For the Cavs, signing Thompson to max money might not be such a bad move. For starters, they have zero cap space going into next season, which will put them in a predicament if they let Thompson walk without any means of replacing him. The Clippers face a similar conundrum with DeAndre Jordan this summer.
It should also be noted that the salary cap is expected to skyrocket from around $68 million next season to a projected $90 million-plus in the 2016-2017 season once the windfall of cash from the enormous television contracts kicks in, which will help alleviate some of that space gobbled up by his deal. And perhaps most important, there’s the issue of keeping LeBron happy.
He’s been downright giddy since the additions of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert at the trade deadline, who will also have to be addressed this summer. Smith can opt out of his current deal, and Shumpert will also enter restricted free agency come July 1. Given their tremendous contributions this postseason, it will be in the Cavs’ best interest to retain their services as well.
Cleveland will have a lot of balls in the air once the season ends, and keeping the current unit in-tact going into next year should be priority number one.