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LeBron James: Tristan Thompson 'Should Probably Be a Cavalier His Entire Career'

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2015

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 22:  Tristan Thompson #13 celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after their 94 to 82 win over the Atlanta Hawks during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 22, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LeBron James cannot see Tristan Thompson leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ever.

Thompson will reach restricted free agency this summer, at which point the Cavaliers can match any offer sheet he signs with another team. While they could just let him walk, James doesn't expect that to happen, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:

Dave McMenamin @mcten

LeBron takes a stance on Tristan Thompson's impending free agency: "Tristan's a guy who should probably be a Cavalier his entire career"

Well, isn't that sweet.

And totally expected.

Not only do James and Thompson share the same agent, Rich Paul, but Thompson has proved indispensable during the Cavaliers' postseason push.

He has taken over for Kevin Love—who is done for the playoffs after having shoulder surgery—in the starting lineup and is averaging a double-double (10.3 points, 11 rebounds per game) in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Owners of a 3-0 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers are going to the NBA Finals. It's a formality at this point. No team has ever successfully come back from a 3-0 deficit, and the Hawks aren't playing like they'll become the first.

With Kyrie Irving still banged up—he missed Games 2 and 3—and Love on the shelf, Thompson has stepped up in every way imaginable.

He's logged 126 total minutes through the first three contests, more than anyone on the team, and the Cavaliers are outscoring the Hawks by eight points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, a net rating higher than that of even James.

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Thompson has been money for Cleveland during the playoffs.
Thompson has been money for Cleveland during the playoffs.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Thompson's offensive rebounding has been especially pivotal to Cleveland's Eastern Conference Finals romp. He's grabbing more than 30 percent of all the Cavaliers' missed shots when on the floor.

For context, Andre Drummond led the offensive rebounding charge during the regular season, snaring 18.3 percent of the Detroit Pistons' missesthe highest rate of any player to average at least 15 minutes per game.

More than that, Thompson continues to show a willingness to adjust and adapt. From his playing time to his role on the floor, he remains Cleveland's ultimate frontcourt chameleon—one who, at 24 years old, is still improving.

As Northeast Ohio Media Group's Chris Fedor writes:

Tristan Thompson's mindset when it comes to rebounding is simple.

"See ball. Get ball," he has repeatedly said throughout the season.

But it's more than that. It's more than a natural greed harvested in high school, an insatiable thirst to get his team extra possessions. It's more than the extra time he has spent in the weight room getting stronger and on the practice court trying to become something more than an undersized center with an unsightly offensive game -- the 'other' Cavs first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Of course, there's another aspect to Thompson's value: Love's foray into free agency.

Speaking with one another on The Lowe Post podcast (h/t RealGM), Grantland's Zach Lowe and ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst indicated they're hearing from various people in the know that Love will opt out of his contract and leave Cleveland this summer.

"Every executive I talk to, every agent I talk to, every quasi-insider, every girlfriend's cousin's sister's boyfriend all says this guy is out of there," Windhorst said.

Love's free agency makes Thompson even more valuable to Cleveland.
Love's free agency makes Thompson even more valuable to Cleveland.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Rumors of the "Kevin Love is so out of here" persuasion have been floating around for a while. There is no telling what he'll actually do at this point, given all the conflicting information available.

But Thompson, a sixth-man candidate when the Cavaliers are at full strength, borders on irreplaceable already. If there's even a chance Love will leave this summer—or, depending on the contract he signs, sometime in the near future—they'll need him even more.

It's far too early to say whether he'll remain with the Cavaliers his entire career.

At this stage, though, two things are certain: James doesn't want him to leave and Cleveland, despite its star-studded core, can ill afford to let him play anywhere else.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.

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