When J.R. Smith opted out of his Cavs contract seven weeks ago no one thought he’d still be unsigned mid-August, or, that the 76ers would be a buyer that Smith would have to turn down. Smith had a good year after the trade from the Knicks primarily because the ball was taken out of his hands. He was only required to score. His usage rate was way down, his efficiency way up. Smith detoured now and then and planted his butt on Idiocy Island but he made up for it with his shot making. So wtf? Why did his free agency dreams blow up in his face when he had high value, striking when he was hot in an insane free agent culture that paid Reggie Jackson more than John Wall.
June is not August; June is filled with hope. In August the reality sets in and it doesn’t matter if perception skews the truth. The narrative helps define the market and J.R. Smith’s reputation has affected his market value. If he was badly wanted then a longer term deal would have happened by now. That it hasn’t happened means a shorter deal with less money is in the cards.
The question every general manager had to ask himself early in free agency was this: take Smith off of the Cavs, away from LeBron, and who is he? Did Smith really have a great second half or did he benefit from the LeBron James luxury? And what about the NBA Finals? Can he take the pressure and maintain discipline and logic?
The Cavs are Smith’s fourth NBA team. He was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets out of high school. Two years later he was traded to Denver where he had five good seasons, averaging 14 points a game. After playing in China during the lockout, Smith signed with the Knicks in what seemed a perfect situation, not far from his hometown of New Jersey. He averaged 13 points a game. This much is true. J.R. Smith loves shooting the ball.
Smith is often his worst enemy, though. When he left the NBA for China, he didn’t negotiate an opt-out clause to use- just in case- when the lockout ended. He was forced to play in China for the entire season. This is the sort of thing that has defined Smith, not paying attention to details, losing focus on important things and getting bogged down in immaturity.
His past is littered with J.R. Smith messes that he can’t run away from but the NBA is like any other American community, they love to forgive. But Smith doesn’t make it easy. The Jae Crowder hit that got him a suspension in the Eastern Conference Finals was one of those J.R. Smith not again moments. The continued brain freezes in fourth quarters, fouling when it’s not necessary, taking bad shots, making questionable decisions, define Smith. Often, when the situation is the most pressurized is when Smith goes south. All these things are used against Smith to downgrade him and take money away.
Nevertheless, Smith was a good fit with the Cavs, making big shots when needed. Was that Smith? Or, was that LeBron James creating opportunities for Smith. If it was James, if his ability to keep J.R. disciplined and focused was a product of his talent and his leadership then the Cavs are negotiating with themselves. So, why not wait to see what the market offers J.R.?
So far, the Cavs are winning free agency, not willing to overpay Smith because frankly, what are his options? He has to either submit to a lottery team like the 76ers. Or wait it out, wait out August, wait until the beginning of September and, then, like all good businessmen accept reality. Settle when the options are about to run out. Then J.R. Smith will be forced to take less money which is a win for the Cavs.
photo via llananba