How Do They Fit? Cavaliers Re-Sign Love And Thompson


The start of free agency in the NBA can be many things. Depending on the team you root for it can be exciting, nerve-wracking, frustrating, hilarious, joyous, and depressing. For many fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, frustration and frayed nerves were a big part of the opening hours of free agency.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Just as Kevin Love announced he was staying with the Cavaliers via The Players Tribune, news broke that the Cavs and Tristan Thompson were close to agreeing on a five year deal that will pay him over $80 million when all is said and done.With this news Cavalier fans everywhere could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their core would be locked up for years to come.

The question now is, do both of these players really fit the Cavaliers going forward? While the idea of spending nearly $200 million on two power forwards seems to be a poor decision, nothing could be further from the truth. There are a bunch of reasons for that.

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  • One reason these signings make good sense for the Cavaliers is the way the salary cap will continue to skyrocket over the next two years. The salary cap for this coming season is expected to be roughly $67 million. Due to the NBA’s new television deals, that number is expected to jump to somewhere around $90 million next summer, followed by another leap to over $100 million in 2017.

    Because maximum salary contracts are based on a percentage of the salary cap the year that contract is signed, a maximum contract signed this summer will cost a team significantly less than a max deal signed next summer, no matter how many years a player has been in the league. This makes Love’s contract (as well as Kyrie Irving’s) a tremendous deal as he would have likely cost much more money next summer if he had signed a deal that allowed him to opt out after one year. While Thompson was less likely to have a chance at a bigger contract next year, and will likely seem like a bit of an overpay for the early part of the contract, the escalating cap will likely make his deal seem like a fair one in the long run.

    Cavalier fans also need to look at re-signing both Love and Thompson less as giving huge contracts to two power forwards and more like retaining two very good big men. Both Love and Thompson can play center as well as power forward, and lineups with both men were very effective this season. Along with Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao, they will make up as deep and talented a group of big men as there are in the NBA. Furthermore, each player has different strengths to their games that they bring to the Cavaliers.

    Despite what many consider to be pedestrian numbers this year by Love (although 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game often is enough to get a big man an All-Star appearance), the big man really was the key to unlocking the Cavaliers offensive potential. With his ability to stretch the floor, Love forces opposing teams to send a big man out the three point line to guard him, opening up driving lanes for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. When Love was out for the playoffs, the Cavaliers were left with two choices; play big with no floor spacing, or play small and space the floor. Love allows the Cavaliers to play big while still spacing the floor.

    Love is more than just a stretch four though. He is a devastating force on offense when he is able to play at the elbow, and a terrific passer who keeps the ball moving and almost always makes the right play. While Love’s offensive rebounding has slipped as he has spent more and more time on the perimeter (can’t be in two places at once), he remains one of the truly elite defensive rebounders in the league, someone who ends the opposition’s possessions. This aspect of his game seems to offset his otherwise poor defense as the Cavaliers were actually better defensively with Love on the floor, a trend that has existed for most of his career.

    Thompson doesn’t have nearly the offensive skill that Love does, but the man contributes in so many other ways, and has become the kind of player teams have to gameplan for. Like Love, Thompson is a tremendous rebounder, although where he is special is on the offensive end. Thompson is arguably the best offensive rebounder in the league, and opposing teams in the playoffs couldn’t keep him off the boards without double-teaming him, a strategy that makes teams pay defensively if (when!) Thompson still comes up with the ball.

    Thompson is limited offensively, but knows those limits. He takes the vast majority of his shots right around the basket, and gets almost all of his points off putbacks and dunks. While Thompson still isn’t a great finisher around the basket, he has improved tremendously from the blocked shot waiting to happen that he used to be on offense.

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    Finally, another area where Thompson really makes a difference is his defense. While not an ideal rim protector (although he stepped it up there in the playoffs), Thompson possesses great length, athleticism, and mobility that he has learned to use effectively on the defensive end. He does a tremendous job when picking up perimeter players in the pick-and-roll and allows the Cavaliers to employ defensive lineups where they can do a massive amount of switching without being burnt, a big reason he typically plays ahead of Mozgov in fourth quarters. In an NBA where teams want their big men to either stretch the floor or protect the rim, Thompson has thrived without really doing either.

    Today was a great day for the Cavaliers, they solidified their front court for years to come with two talented young big men. While there has been some speculation that Mozgov could eventually be dealt to the the other men’s salaries and the fact that he is a free agent next year, I won’t be the one to bet against Dan Gilbert’s checkbook.

    What do you think about the Cavaliers bringing back their two big men and their fit together?

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