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Tristan Thompson may get bigger payday in restricted free agency than he would with a contract extension

Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan (13) shakes hands with teammate Kyrie Irving, right, after defeating the Boston Celtics 97-91 in an NBA basketball game in Boston, Friday, April 5, 2013. Thompson had 29 points in the win. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)


The Cavaliers are trying to figure out whether it would be better to go with size in their starting center in Anderson Varejao, or exchange that for athleticism by placing Tristan Thompson in that role instead.

Exactly when Thompson gets his minutes may not ultimately affect Cleveland all that much, because with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in place, the team will like its chances on most nights, regardless of how the role players perform.

But if Thompson does get the starting nod, or at the very least, gets the bulk of his minutes running with the first unit, it could dramatically affect his contract situation.

Thompson is eligible for an extension to his rookie scale deal before Oct. 31. But unless the Cavaliers come with an offer that would seem outlandish given his current level of production, it’s unlikely he’d sign, because his value could jump significantly by the time he’d become a restricted free agent next summer.

From Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

If recent history is any indication, James will want to see Thompson get paid, and the Cavs want to keep James happy. ...

No numbers have been exchanged yet, but from the moment Derrick Favors signed a four-year, $49 million extension with the Utah Jazz last year around this time, the Cavs privately knew that was the neighborhood in which Thompson wanted to start building. Retaining a starting job would certainly help his case.

In fact, one league source thought it would be in Thompson’s best interest to take this to restricted free agency given the talent surrounding him. Love’s skills as a stretch power forward, coupled with Blatt’s system that balances the floor on offense, will often leave Thompson alone inside to grab rebounds and produce big numbers.

Thompson is represented by Rich Paul, a longtime friend of LeBron’s who successfully negotiated a deal worth $70 million for restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe this summer. James wasn’t afraid to comment on those negotiations along the way publicly, and the remark he made once the deal was done leads you to believe he’s more involved with Paul’s business than may seem appropriate on the surface.

The Cavaliers are obviously interested in winning as many titles as possible while LeBron is in his prime, but they remain cautious where the salary cap and its luxury tax penalties are concerned. For that reason, the team has incentive to wait on paying Thompson major money -- even if his next contract is likely to cost much more next summer.