The Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot on the line this spring. LeBron James can make his fifth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. He can win his third NBA championship. At 30, he can enter rarefied air, though he's already there, really. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving enter their first playoff experience and want to show that they are, really, among the NBA's elite. David Blatt will be coaching for his job, as fair or unfair as that may be.
And so it goes down the Cavaliers roster. For Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert, both 24 years old (Shumpert turns 25 at the end of June) there is money on the line. Both can be restricted free agents this summer, which means that if the Cavaliers extend qualifying offers to them, the team will be able to match any offer teams throw the players' way. Thompson's qualifying offer is around $7.15 million, and Shumpert's is $3.9 million. Both offers will be extended at the earliest available opportunity.
Where it goes from there, I have no idea. Both guys will be looking for four year deals for what should be the primes of their careers. Thompson is perhaps the most intriguing case. I thought _Swirving did a really nice job explaining why the Cavs should match just about any offer Thompson receives, and why it won't be as bad as you think it will be. It's worth revisiting Zach Lowe from the start of the year as well:
Let’s pretend this is more complicated than LeBron James ordering the Cavaliers to take care of Thompson and the agent they share, Rich Paul. If this were a real negotiation, Thompson might be the most interesting extension case in league history.
No single player will benefit more than Thompson from this summer’s wild roster movement. Thompson’s third season was a depressing plateau, one that pegged his ceiling on offense as "skilled NBA mooch." He is not a post-up threat and probably should not be allowed to even try it now that three of the world’s 20 best offensive players are in Cleveland. Thompson shot just 41 percent on post-ups last season, per Synergy Sports, and has one go-to move: a righty jump hook he lofts after a quick one-dribble attack from the left block.
Lowe was right in that Thompson has in fact benefited from the additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love, even as it's pushed him to a bench role. He is taking nearly all of his shots at the rim or very close to it, has been very good finishing around the rim (as long as it's not after offensive rebounds!) and has learned to pass out the ball to reset possessions after getting said offensive rebounds. His true shooting has jumped five points, to just under 58, and he doesn't use very many possessions. When you employ Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love, this is good!
Thompson is going to make his money defensively, of course, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. I wrote about it more in depth here, but here's a small snapshot:
Synergy also rates Thompson's defense this season relatively highly. Thompson is in the 74th percentile overall. While many seem to think Thompson has trouble getting out in space to defend stretch fours, it hasn't been the case this season. Thompson is in the 67th percentile defending spot-ups.
David Blatt has relied on Thompson in fourth quarters this season for a few reasons. No, he isn't a good rim protector for an NBA center, but he can switch on pick and rolls and guard both fours and fives with some capability. Per NBA.com/stats, the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 21.8 points per 100 possessions when Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson share the floor. That's in a 381 minute sample size, and it's pretty crazy. Versatility is valuable!
The question will be: does that continue in the playoffs? Do opposing teams and execs see Thompson as an ultimate glue and hustle guy who can finish and bring defensive versatility and a great attitude? Do they see an overmatched, undersized center, who will turn 25 next year without any type of range in his jump shot? The answer is somewhere in the middle. It's going to be fascinating, and I have no idea.
Shumpert qualifies as fascinating as well. His offensive numbers are ... not great. He's got a true shooting rate of 52 with the Cavs, right around league average, according to basketball-reference.com. For his career, it's down at 49.2. Can he hit enough threes from the wing to be productive? Does his defense live up to his reputation? He's a career 34% three point shooter and he's shooting 34% with the Cavs. If teams close out on him, that's good enough. He can fall in love with his midrange game a little too much, but if he's a secondary ball handler on the second unit, that's pretty great.
Another issue with Shumpert is: Is J.R. Smith coming back? When the Cavs traded for Smith, the player option he was owed for next year at $6 million plus was considered an albatross. Now? If Smith plays like this (big if, of course) it's a bargain. It makes Shumpert a little less necessary. That being said, Shawn Marion is retiring. The Cavs depth at shooting guard if Shumpert leaves is Joe Harris and Matthew Dellavedova.
The cap is going to jump. Avery Bradley got a four year, $32 million extension from Boston. Is that Shumpert money? Is that a good deal? I think it is. I don't know. Will an overzealous team jump up and bid more? The way Thompson and Shumpert play over the next few months will have a big impact. The Cavs would happily trade solid play from both guys for playoff wins if the cost is a bit more money this summer.
We will see.