One stat shows why the Cavaliers are spending a ton of money to keep their team together

LeBron James and Tristan ThompsonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesTristan Thompson is more important to the success of the Cavs than most realise.

In the first 24 hours of free agency, the Cleveland Cavaliers committed $US150 million Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert. Assuming they eventually re-sign Tristan Thompson, they will have spent $US230 million to keep their 2014-15 team together, and that doesn’t include a new contract for LeBron James. While those contracts will put the Cavs in luxury tax hell, there is a good reason why it was so important to make sure they keep most of the same pieces from their Eastern Conference championship team.

Of the money the Cavs have already committed to re-sign players, Kevin Love agreed to a five-year, $US110 million contract, Iman Shumpert got $US40 million over four years, and Tristan Thompson is expected to receive a five-year deal worth $US80 million, although Brian Windhorst reports that the latter of those is currently “stalled.”

While much of the focus had been on Love and whether or not he would return to the Cavs, the re-signing of Thompson may be just as important.

If we look at every combination in the NBA of four players playing together on the floor at the same time (with the 5th player being interchangeable), the unit of LeBron-Love-Thompson-Kyrie Irving was the second-best offensive group in the league last season, averaging 119.4 points per 100 possessions (via reddit):

This is a very promising sign for the Cavs, especially since it didn’t seem like Love really clicked with his teammates until late in the year and there is almost certainly room for improvement as the group gets more experience together.

If we take it a step further, it is also worth noting that this particular foursome was also a good defensive unit, giving up just 98.5 points per 100 possessions. That translates to a NetRtg of 21.0, meaning this group outscores their opposition by 21.0 points for every 100 possessions, the second-best rate in the NBA last season.

And the success wasn’t just limited to the presence of LeBron, Love, and Irving, the Cavs’ so-called “Big 3.” Thompson was a key component of this group.

If we sub in other players as the fourth piece, we see that the combo that includes Thompson is 4.8 points better per 100 possessions offensively and outscores its opponents by 3.8 more points per 100 possessions than any other Cavs unit.

In other words the Cavs’ Big 3 is at their best when Thompson is on the floor with them.

Re-signing LeBron is just a formality in the eyes of most. But according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN it was not going to happen until James makes sure his key teammates are coming back. The two most important pieces are Love and Thompson. Those two are close to being back in the fold and the numbers above show why.

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