Report: Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson still far apart in contract talks

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One way or another, Tristan Thompson is going to end up in Cleveland next season. After a strong postseason in which he started at power forward for much of the Cavs’ Finals run in place of the injured Kevin Love, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the sides would work out a long-term deal. That goes double when you factor in Thompson sharing an agent with LeBron James. Paying Thompson more than market value just seemed like the cost of doing business when the greatest player in the world decided to come home.

Apparently, it’s not that simple. We’re six weeks into free agency and Thompson doesn’t have a deal, and it doesn’t seem like that will change anytime soon.

From ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst:

There is no clear precedent for his position, which has led to a stalemate between Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It has been difficult to negotiate a middle ground, setting the stage for possible tension as training camp approaches.

Thompson, an excellent offensive rebounder and pick-and-roll player who proved valuable in the Cavs’ run to the Finals, is believed to be looking for a maximum-level contract of around $94 million over five years. The Cavs’ offers have been for significantly less.

There has been no real progress since the second week of July when talks reached an impasse and both sides dug in.

It’s tough to gauge Thompson’s value. With the salary cap rising next season, a $94 million deal won’t seem like much of an overpay going forward. But barring an injury, Thompson is not going to be a starter for the Cavs. Kevin Love re-upped on a long-term deal, and Timofey Mozgov will probably do the same next summer. Thompson doesn’t have very many options as a restricted free agent. The only teams with cap space to sign him to a max-level deal are Portland and Philadelphia, and there’s not much point in either of those teams giving him an offer sheet the Cavs will happily match.

If Thompson wants to gamble, he could sign the one-year qualifying offer for $6.8 million, as Greg Monroe did with the Pistons last summer. That would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer, when nearly every team will have cap space and he’ll be able to get an even larger max offer from somebody. It’s a huge risk — Thompson could get injured or have a down year and hurt his value. By continuing to hold their ground in these talks, the Cavs are essentially daring him to take that risk. He has no other leverage.

Another Rich Paul client, Eric Bledsoe, went through this same saga last summer. The Suns let him dangle in restricted free agency, with no other teams stepping up to make offers they knew would get matched. As it got closer to training camp, things started to get ugly and it seemed like there was a real chance he would sign the one-year qualifying offer. But one week before the start of training camp, Bledsoe and the Suns finally agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal to keep him in Phoenix. It was below the max, but still a fair deal. In both cases, there were mitigating circumstances that prevented them from being clear-cut max players. Bledsoe had an extensive injury history; Thompson probably won’t be a starter.

The rising cap works in Thompson’s favor, though. His case to the Cavs is this: max me out now under the current cap, or pay a lot more than that next summer to keep me. Eventually, they’re going to have to bite the bullet and do it, or else lose one of their most important frontcourt players a year from now.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

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Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

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Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.