Phoenix Suns: Cheer For Tristan Thompson

May 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) reacts during the third quarter in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) reacts during the third quarter in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Most Phoenix Suns fans have little vested interest in whoever wins the 2015 NBA Finals. With their team out of the playoffs, Suns supporters have halfheartedly joined one bandwagon or another, or they’ve just avoided rooting for anyone altogether.

The Golden State Warriors are heading to the championship series, but there’s little reason to cheer against them. Well, other than being upset about the Dubs backing out of a draft-day deal that would have netted Phoenix Stephen Curry — a completely understandable decision now that we’ve seen Curry have an MVP season and evolve into the greatest shooter of all time.

As for the Eastern Conference, it looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers will be heading to the Finals, either by virtue of a sweep tonight, a gentlemen’s sweep in Atlanta or a Game 6 victory at home (no way are the Hawks pushing this to seven).

Your opinion on LeBron James likely decides whether you’ll be rooting for or against the Cavs, but the overarching theme here remains the same: few, if any Suns supporters have a compelling reason to lean one way or the other.

But one player Suns supporters should be rooting for in Game 4 tonight (and in the Finals) is Cleveland’s power forward, Tristan Thompson.

Why? It’s simple: With every rebound and offensive put-back that Thompson gets, with every hustle play he makes, and with every defensive stop he helps the Cavs get, Phoenix’s ever-so-faint hopes of bringing in Kevin Love remain alive.

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Full disclosure: The Suns don’t have a great shot at Love no matter what happens with the Cavs in these playoffs. Love is the third member of Cleveland’s Big Three, he spreads the floor for the offense in a way that Thompson can’t and as a free agent, he should be the Cavs’ top offseason priority.

But what if the Cavaliers choose a different path?

Thompson, a restricted free agent, has played exceptionally well since Love went down with a separated shoulder that will sideline him for 4-6 months. He’s averaging 8.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 34.6 minutes per game during the playoffs while shooting 54.7 percent from the floor, but more importantly, he’s helped bolster Cleveland’s defense and rebounding.

To be fair, the Cavaliers’ batch of playoff opponents hasn’t been particularly awe-inspiring. Beating the lowly Boston Celtics, a Chicago Bulls team that went long stretches without scoring and a banged up Atlanta Hawks team that’s been imploding since the first round puts a little asterisk by Cleveland’s elite defensive numbers in the postseason.

That being said, Thompson would undoubtedly be cheaper than re-signing Love, and Love and LeBron James’ relationship has been a source of controversy all year long. If the Suns want any shot at bringing Love to Phoenix this summer, they should be cheering for as much success for Tristan Thompson as humanly possible.

A day after Sunday night’s Game 3, in which Thompson collected a few huge offensive rebounds to help the Cavs escape with a narrow overtime win, LeBron had plenty of nice things to say about Thompson. He even went as far as saying he should probably be a Cleveland Cavalier for his entire career.

Could LeBron already be starting his silent campaign to keep Thompson and let Love go?

That idea is probably a bit of a stretch. In fact, it’s a borderline hot take. Cleveland’s offense was one of the best in the NBA with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and re-signing him would take a lot of the pressure off of King James. After all, you saw the way he collapsed to the floor after carrying his team in Game 3. The dude was exhausted, and can’t keep carrying the load by himself.

Love eases that burden offensively, Thompson makes things a little more bearable on defense. One will take a max extension to keep, the other will be a bit cheaper, even after turning down a four-year, $52 million extension at the beginning of the season. Re-signing both could severely hinder this team’s ability to put a competitive team around the team’s core.

It also depends on whether the Cavs when a championship or not. If Cleveland wins it all, would they be more comfortable letting Love walk? Or, if they won it all, would Love be more encouraged to stick with the Cavs? On the other hand, would Love believe he could’ve been the difference if they lose? These are all variables that can’t be accounted for yet.

But either way, if it comes down to one power forward against the other, LeBron’s high praise for Thompson could become huge in a few months. And if Love does decide he’s not okay with being third banana in Cleveland, he may seek another situation where he could be the unquestioned superstar and face of the franchise.

Cut to Suns fans everywhere waving hello from Phoenix, which they’ve been doing for years now.

Love would have better options if he wants to win. For example, if the Atlanta Hawks decide they want to pass on Paul Millsap, they could reach out to K-Love.

Competitive teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks could be in the running, as could major markets with a lot of cap room like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

If Love wants to win a championship, he’ll stay in Cleveland or join a team like the Spurs. If he wants to make a crap ton of money and be “the guy” who has to do all the work and carry another team (as he did with the Minnesota Timberwolves, though he never made the playoffs then), he’ll go to Boston, New York or L.A.

But if he wants a decent combination of the two, and if he wants to be the star on a young team that could make the playoffs in the West with him playing stretch-four, he’ll give the Suns a serious look.

The odds aren’t great, but even if he doesn’t consider the Suns, tons of teams will be renouncing the rights to their free agents for a shot at Love this summer. If he decides to leave Cleveland, the Suns might be able to get in on some of those renounced free agents.

So in the interest of having a more successful free agency this summer, whether it’s with Kevin Love or the casualties of his free agency, Suns fans should really be rooting for Tristan Thompson either way.

Next: Phoenix Suns: 10 Best Draft Picks In Team History

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