LeBron James made his thoughts clear about soon-to-be restricted free agent Tristan Thompson‘s future in Cleveland, telling beat writers that the power forward “should probably be a Cavalier the rest of his career,” notes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Thompson and James both employ Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as their agent, and James clearly has an influence on the Cavs.
Extension talks between Thompson and the Cavs broke down as the deadline for the sides to sign one approached this past fall. Thompson reportedly turned down an offer worth $52MM over four years from the Cavs. Cleveland signed fellow big man and James confidant Anderson Varejao to an extension the same day that talks ended with Thompson. Uncertainty over just how the salary cap would look apparently helped discussions unravel with the former No. 4 overall pick, but neither side left the negotiating table with hard feelings, according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio. The union in March issued a final rejection of the league’s proposal to phase in salary cap increases, ostensibly bringing more clarity to bear for when Thompson and the Cavs can pick up negotiations this summer.
Cleveland appears set to zoom past the projected $67.1MM cap and $81.6MM tax threshold if it is to keep its team together next season, though owner Dan Gilbert hasn’t signaled that he wants any belt-tightening. Rival executives thought Thompson would end up with an extension for between $10-12MM a year while he and the Cavs were talking this past fall, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported during the season, but Thompson has appeared more valuable than ever in the playoffs. He’s averaging 3.9 offensive rebounds in 34.6 minutes per game in the postseason, having inherited a starting role following Kevin Love‘s injury. The Cavs appear to have meshed better with Thompson at the four than they did with Love.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders figures Thompson’s camp will start talks with a request for the max this summer. Kyler also writes in that same NBA AM piece that agents commonly believe that teams will be more willing than usual to give max and near-max offers this summer, the last before major escalation in the salary cap. So, it seems there’s a decent chance other teams will drive up Thompson’s price point with fat offer sheets. A further complication is the future of Love, who’s said he’ll opt in. Whether he does or he doesn’t, he wouldn’t be tied to Cleveland for more than another year, putting pressure on Cleveland to retain at least one of its top-line power forwards unless Love opts out and commits to a new long-term deal.