Thompson’s months-long standoff with the Cleveland Cavaliers is truly shocking.
Want to know why?
Because of LeBron James.
It’s not that Thompson is so valuable the Cavaliers should have bent to his max-contract demands already. It’s not that Cleveland is playing hard ball, when it’s not as if it can take the money allocated for Thompson and spend it on someone else. It’s not that Thompson, a career role player, is betting that they’ll be max offers waiting for him next July, after he spends a second season as the fourth or fifth fiddle on Cleveland’s superteam.
No, the absence of a new contract for Thompson is shocking because of James. It’s James who has, on multiple occasions, voiced his support of Thompson’s return. It’s him who shares an agent with Thompson. It’s him who, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, suggested that Thompson should finish his career in Cleveland:
LeBron takes a stance on Tristan Thompson's impending free agency: "Tristan's a guy who should probably be a Cavalier his entire career"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 25, 2015
Presumably, then, it’s also James who is pulling some strings behind the scenes and getting the Cavaliers and Thompson to sort this mess out.
Except he’s not doing that.
From Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon:
But a source close to James said Thompson’s contract is a “non-discussion right now” for James as it relates to his own future, and a team source said the Cavs believe “LeBron’s goals don’t change relative to Tristan Thompson or anyone. Be as good as we can be for as long as we can be.”
In other words, the nuclear option, or James demanding the Cavs pay Thompson what he wants or else, doesn’t appear to be on the table.
Thompson is seeking a five-year, $94 million contract. The team, meanwhile, has offered a five-year, $80 million contract and has already come up from its original offer to reach that number, according to a source. . . .
Here’s where James could flex his muscle and apply pressure to the front office in Thompson’s favor, only he hasn’t done it. James privately expressed to the team his desire for Thompson to be in Cleveland long term, and publicly he called the re-signing of Thompson the team’s “No. 1 objective” in August.
But sources said James has not applied pressure internally for the Cavs to acquiesce to Thompson’s salary demands. And, back in August, James told reporters that “things need to be worked out from his side and the Cavs.” Basketball observers at the time saw James’ statements as an opportunity passed for him to push Cleveland toward paying Thompson’s asking price.
There’s still time for James to get involved, but for now, he’s keeping this soap opera at arm’s length. Which is smart. Part, if not most of him has to know Thompson isn’t worth a max deal on the outside market, and all of him has to understand that, while he holds great influence in Cleveland, flexing his muscles at every turn isn’t a good look.
These negotiations between Thompson and the Cavaliers are important, make no mistake. If a long-term deal isn’t reached by the Oct. 1 deadline, Thompson is expected to sign his qualifying offer, play out next season and then leave Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, James might express more interest in this issue as the deadline nears. But, again, for now, it’s on Thompson and the Cavaliers to find their own middle ground, wherever it may be, assuming it exists at all.