Even after leaving for the Celtics.
Thompson, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
“For people in Cleveland, just as a guy who was basically one of them,” Thompson said Sunday morning. “Blue collar. Hardworking. Punch the clock. Against all odds. People in Cleveland are always looked over. But people in Cleveland are genuine, hardworking, tough, gritty MFs. That’s how I was when I played. I hope people remember me as that. Hopefully one day my jersey is up in that arena.”
The Cavs have set a relatively low bar for number retirement. They’ve retired seven numbers for players who played during the franchise’s first 40 years – despite the team mostly losing in that span. Cleveland even retired the number of Nate Thurmond, who spent just two years on the team.
Now, the Cavaliers must determine how to honor players from their golden age – 2015-18, when they won the 2016 NBA championship and four conference titles.
The case for Thompson in a nutshell: He ranks second in franchise history in playoff win shares.
Thompson was available and stepped up with tenacious rebounding and versatile defense throughout those deep playoff runs. He was especially important to the 2016 championship, which ended Cleveland’s title drought and was so, so gratifying. His endearing playing style made his contributions greater than traditional statistics captured.
But Thompson was never an All-Star and never close to being one. He spent nine seasons with the Cavs, which isn’t a short time but isn’t quite enough longevity to overcome his lack of elite production. His postseason win shares (7.5) are way behind LeBron James‘ (31.9) and near third-place Kyrie Irving‘s (7.4) and fourth-place Kevin Love‘s (5.6).
More than evaluating Thompson, the Cavaliers must decide where they’re drawing the line on number retirement now that they’ve achieved major success. Thompson could fall on either side of it.