For months, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson have been in the midst of a stare down over a contract extension for the 24-year-old big man. Thompson is reportedly seeking a max deal worth $94 million over five years, but the Cavs are unwilling to go above their current five-year, $80 million offer.
With training camp opening up on Sept. 29, it’d be in the team’s best interest to give in to Thompson’s demands.
Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, has said that his client will walk after the season if forced to settle for a $6.8 million qualifying offer this summer. That could just be negotiating bluster, but the Cavaliers shouldn’t take that chance.
Cleveland isn’t in a position to play hardball with the best player on its second unit. All-Star forward Kevin Love is coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum he suffered in April. Center Timofey Mozgov underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in July, while veteran big man Anderson Varejao has played a total of 116 games in the last three seasons and is recovering from a torn Achilles that cut his 2014-15 campaign short.
Meanwhile, Thompson hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year in 2011-12.
The former Texas Longhorn is also an emerging force on the boards. His 14.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage was fourth-best in the league last year, and he’s averaged at least eight rebounds per game in each of the last three seasons:
Thompson’s effectiveness on the offensive glass is huge for the Cavs. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Cleveland’s offensive rebounding percentage dropped 4.3 percent in the regular season and 6.2 percent in the playoffs when Thompson was off the court. The club also finished 18th in the NBA with 16 second-chance points per game:
Could you imagine how they would’ve fared without Thompson tenaciously keeping plays alive?
As a testament to his impact, Thompson posted an offensive real plus-minus of 1.34, which was higher than the likes of Derrick Favors (1.22), Pau Gasol (0.85), Chris Bosh (0.72) and Tim Duncan (0.53).
Another incentive to keeping Thompson around long-term is his relationship with LeBron James, who’s also represented by Paul. In August, James called the team’s need to re-sign its key reserve “our No. 1 objective” for the rest of the offseason, while also saying Thompson is a “huge part” of the team.
It’s understandable for the Cavaliers to be reluctant to give Thompson a max deal. An average annual salary of $18.8 million is a lot of money to give a reserve big man, especially one who doesn’t protect the rim and isn’t very effective as a scorer outside of the paint. Thompson has averaged less than one blocked shot per game in each of the past three seasons, and according to NBA.com, 90.2 percent of his field goal attempts in ’14-’15 came from within 10 feet.
However, with the salary cap expected to skyrocket over the next few years, quibbling over dollars should take a backseat to putting the best possible team on the floor. In the grand scheme of things, saving money now isn’t a good enough reason to let one of the league’s best reserves find greener pastures elsewhere.
If the Cavs learned anything from last year’s NBA Finals, it’s that quality depth is important. Cleveland’s championship window isn’t going to stay open forever. While hanging on to Thompson will be an expensive venture, it’ll prove less costly than the alternative.