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LeBron James Comments on Tristan Thompson's Status with Cavaliers

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2015

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, and center Tristan Thompson walk off the floor after the end of the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had one of the NBA's most successful summers by virtue of re-signing Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova, but Tristan Thompson's unresolved contract situation continues to ominously hover over the Wine and Gold as a new season approaches. 

And after the restricted free-agent power forward filled in admirably for Love during the postseason, Cavaliers star LeBron James knows the team needs to do all it can to retain its purveyor of hustle and muscle. 

"Our No. 1 objective right now is to sign Tristan," James said Thursday, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "He's a huge part of our team. Short term and long term he makes our team more dangerous."

James added: "Things need to be worked out from his side and the Cavs but we need him back. I think our front office has done a great job this summer. The next step is to get Tristan done."

Since Thompson is a restricted free agent, the Cavaliers retain the right to match any offers he receives. However, if he doesn't field any deals and the Cavaliers don't present terms that the 24-year-old is amenable to, he could opt to accept a $6.8 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent following the 2015-16 season.      

According to Windhorst, Thompson is seeking a long-term max commitment that will pay him roughly $94 million over five years. But lately, the Cavaliers haven't appeared willing to meet those lofty financial demands.

Windhorst added that the two sides haven't spoken since mid-July, and Thompson's agent—who also represents James—has gone on record saying that the big man will not return to Cleveland after the upcoming season, should he accept the qualifying offer. 

"If [Thompson] is on the qualifying offer, [this] will be his last year with the Cavs," agent Rich Paul said, per Windhorst. 

Thompson's Year-Over-Year Splits
SeasonMPGGames PlayedGames StartedPPGRPGBPGPER
2011-1223.760258.26.51.013.3
2012-1331.3828211.79.40.916.1
2013-1431.6828211.79.20.414.9
2014-1526.882158.58.00.715.6
Source: Basketball-Reference.com

As CBS Sports' Matt Moore noted, that strategy could have benefits for both sides. 

"Thompson could be in line for an even bigger payday under a new five-year deal next year with the new crazy-high cap," Moore wrote. "The Cavaliers would save luxury-tax money while keeping Thompson an extra year, and it would open up more Bird rights flexibility to possibly re-sign Timofey Mozgov if they can create some wiggle room."

After Love went down with a torn labrum in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, Thompson stepped into his starting spot at power forward. Over the course of 20 appearances, Thompson averaged 9.6 points, 1.2 blocks and 10.8 rebounds, including 4.4 offensive boards, in 36.4 minutes a night. 

Those numbers represented a solid improvement from his regular-season averages of 8.5 points, eight rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game.

But with Love set to return from his shoulder injury and Mozgov holding down the fort at center, Thompson figures to be relegated to the role of an energy contributor off the bench once again.

And with his per-game numbers primed to dip as a result of those changing circumstances, Thompson needs to weigh whether a decrease in production could hurt his value on the open market next summer.

However, with the salary cap ready to hover around $89 million for the 2016-17 season, per DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony, any statistical backslide could be offset by the massive monetary explosion. 

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