Finally Healthy, Tristan Thompson Is Showing Why He’s Still One Of The Best At His Position – Forbes

The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken quite a few teams by surprise early into this season. Considered one of the worst teams by Vegas, Cleveland has remained competitive in virtually all of their games, a stark contrast from a year ago, and are headed into Sunday’s contest against the New York Knicks at 3-5.

Cleveland has shown that they have become a genuinely hard-working and entertaining team through this opening stretch as well. The main reason for Cleveland’s successful start is due to Kevin Love starting the season out healthy and is the Cavaliers’ leading scorer at 18.5 points per game. But, Tristan Thompson, Love’s frontcourt partner, has been the other reason for Cleveland’s solid start.

Through eight contests, Thompson is averaging 17.4 points, 11.6 total rebounds – 5.1 of which are offensive, 2.8 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. All of these are career highs for Thompson, who has become arguably Cleveland’s best player to start the season. Thompson has also reminded the NBA once again that he is still one of the best to play his position and the numbers back it up.

This is because like Love, Thompson is finally healthy. Last season, Thompson saw the wear and tear of his iron man streak finally catch up to him and had to miss nearly half of Cleveland’s season due to injury. Thompson was able to put up then career best numbers when he did play, though which maybe was just a taste of what was to come this year.

“Relentless. He has his legs underneath him, he’s fully healthy, took the summer to really get right. I’m proud of how Tristan is doing,” Love said after Cleveland’s win over the Washington Wizards. “Really becoming a vocal leader and has taken everyone under his wing. Told him he picked me up tonight when I was in foul trouble and down and out. So he’s really done a lot for this team and it extends to more than what he does on the court.”

But, there could be an ulterior motive to Thompson playing the best basketball of his career, though. The Canadian big man is currently in the final year of his contract, and is slotted to make $18,539,130 this season. Thompson could be a prime trade candidate because of his contract and with his exemplary play, could net Cleveland a haul of assets. On paper, teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics or the Toronto Raptors would all make sense for Thompson’s services.

But, what if Cleveland doesn’t want to trade Thompson? What if they signed him to a contract extension instead?

At first, it seems little far-fetched considering Cleveland recently signed Love to a four-year, $120 million contract extension and Larry Nance Jr. to a four-year, $44.8 million extension as well. Throwing a Thompson extension into the mix would mean Cleveland has a majority of its salary cap tied up to their bigs, and with Collin Sexton’s extension likely coming soon may be tough to justify. Well, it would have before Thompson came out this season like he has.

A realistic extension offer for Thompson would likely be somewhat comparable to what Nance and the Cavaliers agreed to. Something in the range of three-years, $33.6 million would be totally fair for all parties involved. Thompson gets to stay in Cleveland, the only team he has played for, and the Cavaliers are able to keep one of their better players in town through the remainder of their rebuild.

Now, would Thompson after signing an extension likely see a dip in production? The chances are more than likely that he would regress towards his career averages. But, that’s totally fine! For his career, Thompson has averaged 9.3 points and 8.6 boards per game and at $11.2 million annually, that isn’t too hard to justify for Cleveland. It should also be worth noting that Thompson’s hypothetical extension becomes even more valuable when you factor in his impact off the court.

As Love mentioned above, Thompson has stepped up in a major way as one of the Cavaliers’ leaders. Seeing their interactions on the floor, during practice, in the locker room and throughout social media, it is beyond clear that Thompson has taken all of Cleveland’s youth movement under his wing.

“Without them, we wouldn’t win a single game,” said Cavaliers rookie Kevin Porter Jr. on Love and Thompson. “They’re our head of the snake and they keep us all level-headed. Especially Tristan.”

As Cleveland continues to go through the youth and inexperience of a rebuild, they need to ensure that they keep team leaders like Thompson on the roster to help guide it. Especially if the Cavaliers were to add Memphis Tigers big man James Wiseman to their roster through the upcoming draft this summer. Having Thompson, who was selected in 2011 as the team’s big man of the future, to possibly pass the torch to Wiseman would be a pretty cool thing to witness.

In the end, Thompson will be one of Cleveland’s greatest trade assets leading up to the trade deadline as he likely continues his stellar play. But, the Cavaliers should look to instead explore signing Thompson to a contract extension because his value to Cleveland outweighs his value on the trade market. Not only has Thompson been a monster statistically, but, he’s positively impacting the growth of Cleveland’s young core as well. Keeping him beyond this season doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

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