INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James opened up public negotiations for teammate Tristan Thompson's impending restricted free agency Monday, telling reporters that he wants the big man to stick around Cleveland for a long time.
"Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career," James said a day after Thompson had a game-saving block in regulation followed by a game-clinching offensive rebound and kickout to James for 3 in Cleveland's 114-111 overtime win against Atlanta in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. "There's no reason why he shouldn't."
Thompson, who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with James, turned down a reported four-year, $52 million contract extension offer in October before the season started.
He went on to have a solid season, averaging 8.5 points while shooting a career-high 54.7 percent from the field to go with 8.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game, coming off the bench in 67 of his 82 appearances. He finished fifth in NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting.
"This guy is 24 years old. He's played in 340-plus straight games, and he's gotten better every single season," James said. "It's almost like what more can you ask out of a guy, even though we ask for more out of him."
Thompson, drafted by Cleveland with the No. 4 pick in 2011, has actually played in 301 straight games, including the playoffs, dating back to Feb. 10, 2012. It's an iron man streak that is second-longest in the league behind only the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan.
"He's a young guy, but he's a professional that loves to come to work every day," James continued. "He plays his heart out every single night, and he has zero sense of entitlement in this league. All he cares about is coming into work. Whatever is given to him, he relishes the opportunity, and he's a great teammate. So he'll be here for a long time."
Thompson was flattered by James' statement.
"I appreciate the compliment, if that's a compliment, from LeBron," Thompson said. "I'm just here to work, to just come into work and do what the team asks of me -- whether it's on the court, off the court, in the community -- and just be a professional."
Thompson has stepped up his output in the playoffs, averaging 8.9 points on 57.5 percent shooting, 9.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 34.6 minutes per game. He's also racked up four double-doubles in the playoffs in the nine games the Cavs have played since Kevin Love went out with season-ending shoulder surgery.
"First of all, I think LeBron is right," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "Every team wants guys like that, [who] take on whatever role is asked and embrace it and do their very best to help the team in the ways that the team needs, and you've seen Tristan do that this year.
"When we brought [Love] in, we asked Tristan to be our first big off the bench. I thought he had a great season. I thought he was very much in the running for Sixth Man of the Year. And then when [Love] went down, we put him in the starting lineup, and he's been terrific and doing the things that he does and doing whatever is asked of him for the good of the team. Like I said, that's a guy you always want on your team."
Thompson is one of several key members of the Cavs whom are expected to test the market this summer, either through restricted free agency (Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are also in that boat) or by opting out of their current deals to seek a new deal (James, Love and J.R. Smith).
When asked how often he thinks about free agency, Thompson sidestepped the question.
"I think about Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks," Thompson said. "That's the only thing I'm thinking about; that's the only thing I'm worried about right now."