Thompson, a power forward/center, was relegated to sixth man duty when Cleveland traded for Kevin Love in the offseason. But he has been a revelation in the postseason since Love was injured late in a first-round sweep of the Celtics. In the Cavs’ past seven games — all wins — Thompson is averaging a double-double while logging heavy minutes and contributing key plays late in games.
James is decidedly on Team Thompson, in part because of those contributions and perhaps in part because they share an agent. Thompson reportedly turned down a four-year, $52 million deal this past offseason. After his huge Game 3 against Atlanta, LeBron said this about him:
“Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career. … This guy is 24 years old. He’s played in 340-plus straight games, and he’s gotten better every single season. It’s almost like what more can you ask out of a guy, even though we ask for more out of him.”
If LeBron wants Thompson, he’ll probably get Thompson … but it’s also hard to believe there is room for all the big men the Cavs have collected. Thompson will get big money. Center Anderson Varejao, also injured this year, is due more than $9 million each of the next two seasons. The Cavs also have a team option on Timofey Mozgov, for whom they traded Denver two future first round picks (one from OKC and one from Memphis, so the picks could be decent at some point).
So where does that leave Love? Well, he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent or he can stay with the Cavs and be paid for one more season at more than $16 million for the year. He has said he doesn’t intend to opt out, but his less-than-perfect relationship with LeBron combined with his injury and Thompson’s emergence could cause him to rethink that position.
If Love opts out, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers just letting him walk after giving away Andrew Wiggins in a trade for him, but if they win a title without him … well, it gets easier to imagine life without him — particularly if life with Thompson makes more sense and is coveted by LeBron.