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Why Cavaliers Need To End Tristan Thompson Distraction Quickly

The saga between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson has gone on long enough.

Thompson was initially seeking a max contract worth $94 million over five years, but the club was unwilling to move beyond $80 million over that same span. The latest report has him willing to lower his demands to a three-year contract worth $53 million, which the Cavs have yet to agree to.

With Thompson declining to sign his $6.8 million qualifying offer, he’s now down to three options:

  1. Sign an offer sheet from another team (which Cleveland could match).
  2. Agree to a deal with the Cavs
  3. Sit out until a compromise is reached.

Based on comments made on Zach Lowe’s podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst believes it could be a while before this issue gets settled.

“I think it will take a third party event to bridge the gap here. I actually believe it will probably go months. This will go well into the regular season.”

The Cavs have been down this road before. In 2007, Anderson Varejao held out after the team couldn’t meet his contract requests, and it took an offer from the then-Charlotte Bobcats in December to resolve the matter.

What has become lost in the seemingly endless drama between Thompson and the Cavs is both sides need each other to ultimately get what they want. With Kevin Love (shoulder), Timofey Mozgov (knee) and Varejao (Achilles) all working their way back from their respective surgeries, Cleveland needs a durable big man in the frontcourt, and Thompson hasn’t missed a game in the past three seasons. The team also needs Thompson’s presence on the offensive glass. The 24-year-old pulled down a team-high 274 offensive rebounds last season, which was nearly double the runner-up (Kevin Love, 142). With Thompson’s help, Cleveland’s 11.1 offensive rebounds per game was tied for 11th in the NBA.

If Thompson holds out, the Cavs’ alternatives leave much to be desired. Mozgov has averaged more than seven rebounds per game just twice in his seven-year career. Varejao appeared in just 172 games since 2009-10, while Love’s offensive rebounding percentage has decreased every year since his rookie season.

Kevin Love's offensive rebounding percentage, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

Kevin Love’s offensive rebounding percentage, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

As for Thompson, he can’t build his market value up from his couch. The more he can contribute to a potential Cavaliers championship run, the higher his profile becomes. At this point, it’s unlikely that anyone will offer him a huge contract before next summer when teams will have more salary cap space to play with.

While his durability and rebounding are crucial to the Cavaliers’ success, there are still some areas he needs to shore up before potential suitors are convinced he’s worth max money. For starters, he’s not much of a scorer outside of the paint. He shot 36.6 percent last season from within 3-to-10 feet while converting just 33.3 percent from 10-to-16 feet.

Thompson also needs work on the defensive end, as well. With a career average of less than one block per game (0.7, to be exact), he’s not much of a rim protector. In fact, he notched block percentage of 2.2 percent last season. To put that in perspective, defensively-challenged big men such as Amar’e Stoudemire (2.5) and Mitch McGary (2.6) finished with a higher percentage. Thompson also allowed 106 points per 100 possessions. Of all the Cavalier big men who suited up last season, only Lou Amundson (107) and Alex Kirk (115) fared worse. However, both of those players appeared in a combined 17 games for Cleveland.

Beyond the obvious effect this stalemate will have on the court, there’s also the toll it’s taking off of it. LeBron James admitted that the constant speculation over Thompson’s future has become a “distraction”.

“The last thing you need is a distraction when you try to make a championship run. And we have that now. It’s unfortunate for both sides that we’re going through it right now as a team.”

After staying quiet on the matter for most of the summer, James finally chimed in on Instagram, posing for a picture with Thompson with a caption saying “Get it done!”. Whether speaking as Thompson’s friend or as the leader of the team, James’ involvement puts the Cavs in a tough spot. If they cave to Thompson’s demands, it sets a bad precedent and hinders any leverage the team might have going forward with other players. If they let Thompson walk, they risk upsetting the face of the franchise.

Regardless, as time ticks away without a resolution and the regular season draws closer, both sides will continue to lose face. The Cavs will be criticized for letting a few million dollars keep them from taking advantage of their championship window while Thompson’s “greed” is bound to rub some fans the wrong way. The only way to end this soap opera is to do as the King asked.

Get it done.

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