Windhorst also hears that Cleveland will have interest in retaining Thomas regardless of whether or not LeBron James returns to the team, as long as Thomas can prove he’s past the hip injury. If James bolts, the Cavs cannot simply let go of other assets just because they will no longer be serious contenders for a championship.
According to Windhorst, although the Cavs made it clear behind the scenes that the Nets’ pick was the top piece in the Kyrie Irving trade, the organization will feel some pressure to keep Thomas, as he was the best player sent to Cleveland in the deal. The scribe also notes that owner Dan Gilbert loves underdogs and players who have overcome challenges. The Cavs paid $2.4MM to buy a draft pick in 2016 in order to take Kay Felder—an undersized point guard who went to a smaller university—because of Felder’s ability to overcome challenges. Felder didn’t work out for Cleveland, but Thomas’ career fits the mold of what caught Gilbert’s eye.
Thomas is making roughly $6.3MM this season, though he spoke last summer about desiring the max. That was before he was dealt to Cleveland and before he missed significant time with his hip injury. It was reported last week that the market for his services will be difficult to predict. However, the point guard is thriving in limited minutes with his new club and signs appear to be pointing in the right direction.
The Cavs have the league’s highest payroll at approximately $134.1MM, but they hold Thomas’ full Bird rights, which means they are eligible to go well beyond the cap to make him an offer.
The point guard market could help Cleveland retain Thomas at a rate lower than the max. Players such as Kyle Lowry and George Hill found out last summer that the market for veteran floor generals was underwhelming and both point guards settled for less than they were expecting just months before.
Furthermore, most of the teams projected to have cap space for a $20MM annual offer are not expected to make a play for an expensive point guard. The Bulls like what they have in Kris Dunn. The Sixers will continue to let Ben Simmons handle the one and the Mavs just drafted Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 9 overall pick back in June.
Windhorst names the Nets, Suns, and Pacers as possibilities, but the scribe is bearish on all three, especially Phoenix since it already traded Thomas away once.
Thomas has played in three games with Cleveland (2-1 record) so far, taking some of the offensive responsibilities off of James’ plate. The point guard is averaging 15.0 points and 3.3 assists in 19.7 minutes per contest.