The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to get a major head start on their big offseason by agreeing to new deals with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson on the first day of free agency. Only, there was never a new deal with Thompson, and there’s still no deal with Thompson. The initial report had Thompson and the Cavaliers close to an agreement on a five-year, $80 million contract, but the power forward wants more, and Cleveland hasn’t been willing to give it to him yet.
Since that first day of free agency, Love, LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, James Jones and now Matthew Dellavedova have all returned. Mo Williams has been brought in to help provide more punch off the bench. Brendan Haywood was traded to create a large trade exception that could be used to upgrade the roster over the next year, and Mike Miller was included in the deal to help alleviate some of the giant luxury tax burden owner Dan Gilbert is about to take on.
But there’s still the matter of Thompson’s deal getting done, and J.R. Smith is still twisting in the wind as well. Smith opted out of his $6.4 million contract for next year, only to not find any new deals to his liking. At the moment, it’s looking like Smith would’ve been better off opting in, although maybe he ends up with a one-year deal that’s similar in value to his player option.
While Thompson and Smith are technically still on the market, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they remain in Cleveland. That’s especially the case with Thompson, who shares an agent with LeBron. James has publicly voiced his support for Thompson in the past, and after the young big man proved his worth throughout last season’s playoffs, it’s hard to see the Cavaliers not getting a new deal done with him.
Yes, even with so much money already invested in Love. Timofey Mozgov will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and with so many teams prepared to have loads of cap space, he’ll likely get a lucrative offer. Cleveland would surely like to retain Mozgov, but having Love and Thompson locked up long term would make losing the big Russian more palatable. Thompson isn’t a traditional center, but he’s five years younger than Mozgov and can play together with Love or LeBron in the frontcourt just fine in this new-age NBA.
Thompson could theoretically sign the one-year, $6.78 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent when the cap jumps next summer, although that’s a risky proposition for him and the Cavaliers would likely pay him a bit more money on a long-term deal this summer than let that happen. The Portland Trail Blazers or Philadelphia 76ers could force Cleveland’s hand by extending a max offer sheet, but there are no signs of that happening and the Cavaliers would probably just match anyway.
As for Smith, he has value as a spot-up shooter, despite his wretched NBA Finals performance. He’s not a guy you can rely upon as one of the primary options, but if he’s your third or fourth option (which he would be playing alongside LeBron, Kyrie and Love), he’s dangerous. He shot 39 percent from three in the regular season after the trade and 36 percent in the playoffs, even with his awful showing in the Finals.
Smith doesn’t make much sense in Portland or Philadelphia, and any other offer he may get wouldn’t be all that enticing. Staying in Cleveland on a proven title contender is the sensible play, even if he has to take a bit of a pay cut to do it. Again, maybe he takes a one-year deal similar to his player option in order to hit free agency again in 2016. Or maybe he takes a multi-year deal that’s worth a bit less annually.
At any rate, there’s not much mystery about where these two players are going to end up. It’s almost certainly going to be back in Cleveland. The mystery is how much money they get and how much larger that luxury tax bill gets because of the new deals.