The LeBron James-effect on Cleveland Cavaliers negotiations

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are coming off their finest year in franchise history after claiming their first-ever NBA title against all the odds.

No team had ever come back from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals, least of all against a record-setting 73-win team like the Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James was obviously the heartbeat of that side as he led all players for points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks to collect the Finals MVP award, but it was a group effort from the Cavaliers.

Inserting Tristan Thompson in at the five spot instead of Timofey Mozgov was a shrewd move by coach Tyronn Lue who saw his athleticism as a way to counter the Dubs, even if he is a little undersized for a center.

However, as a contract standoff ensued last summer, Lue might not have had that option up his sleeve.

Thompson was a restricted free agent and could have accepted a paltry qualifying offer of $6.8 million to stay another year. Had he done that, his agent Rich Paul - also LeBron's agent - insisted that would be his last season in Ohio.

Weeks past with no progress made and the Cavs seemingly had a big decision to make. Cleveland either needed to go all-in on Thompson's talents or let him go - it was that simple.

LeBron said last summer: "Tristan's a guy who should probably be a Cavalier his entire career."

Sure, the Canadian impressed during their 2014-15 Finals run when Kevin Love went down injured, but, realistically, he is the Cavaliers' fourth-best player on a good day. His stats are never going to reflect that of a quintessential max-contract player, but that's exactly what he earns.

Was it the LeBron-effect that landed Thompson a five-year, $82 million extension? With so much money committed to King James, Love and Kyrie Irving, it seemed improbable that Cleveland would tie themselves up to Thompson so emphatically, but that is exactly what happened.

Fast forward 12 months, and, in some ways, a serious case of deja vu ensued. J.R. Smith was the man haggling with the franchise this time around and while he doesn't have the upside that Thompson does or time on his side, he is a valuable scoring option from the bench that certainly contributed to the title win.

About three weeks ago, what happened? LeBron had something else to say.

"We’re still missing a huge piece of our team,” James said, referring to Smith. “Once that is resolved, hopefully soon, we can really get into what we need to do."

"All of a sudden now he’s a season-ticket holder at the Indians games,” he said of Smith. “We just miss him, man. They just need to get it done.”

Even in an inflated market like the current NBA landscape, Smith appeared to be asking for a lot of money considering he is 31. His worth had definitely risen, but the question was how much?

Smith signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the NBA champions on Friday and that pushes Cleveland's payroll to a league-record $125 million for the coming season with a luxury-tax bill in the $30 million range.

Thompson may prove to be worth every penny of his deal down the road, but one has to think for what is essentially a sixth man, Smith's deal is an expensive one and at the very least, one year too long. However, with the fourth year of the deal not guaranteed, the Cavaliers might just come out on top of these negotiations yet.

The LeBron-effect is a complicated one indeed. But, if it helps him to keep performing how he has done in recent years, some expensive placating is the way to go for Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
LeBron James
Tristan Thompson
Kevin Love
JR Smith

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