J.R. Is Playing Checkers, the Cavs are Playing Chess

J.R. Smith is  not LeBron James. J.R. is still waiting for his phone to ring. He is still waiting for his long awaited multi-year contract, somewhere in the ballpark of $15 million per year. According to Real GM,  J.R and the Cavs are $5 million per year apart. The Cavs want to give him $10 million annually.

The  pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after years of sacrificing which including a stint in China was supposed to fall in J.R.’s lap this summer. Or, so he thought. J.R. was hoping to picks up crumbs. He was was expecting a windfall similar to Evan Turner. Turner signed a 4-year $70 million dollar deal with the Blazers. Last season with the Celtics, Turner averaged 10.5 points per game, 45.6% shooting. In that same time frame, J.R. averaged 12.4 points on a championship team, 40% from three. Where is his big money?

J.R. in his mo money dreams is a cautionary tale. Because what is happening to J.R. this year (so far) happened to J.R. last year. He gambled on a big pay day and he lost.

If J.R. Smith hadn’t opted out of his contact in the summer of 2015, he would have made $6.5 million in 2015-16. Instead, he made 23% less. He was responsible for his own financial downfall because of greed and the bottom line was he stole from himself.

Last summer, no contender wanted J.R. Smith. He tried to take the high road and spin it.

“When I opted out of my contract, I wanted to understand the landscape of the NBA and where I fit best.”

Uh, no. He wanted to get some big cash. He lost sight of his own ability and how he is perceived in the NBA ecosystem. If he wasn’t a $8 or $9 million dollar player last year, what has changed? His playoffs this year were good but not extraordinary. He received more attention for his post-game emotions after Game 7, which included removing his shirt, than he did for any singular on-court achievement.

J.R. Smith Points FG% 3-Point% Offensive Rating PER
2015-16 Reg. Season 12.4 41.5% 40.0% 110 12,4
2015-16 Playoffs 11.5 43.6% 43.0% 125 12.5

J.R. is who he is, a gunner, a shot maker, an average defender, a player whose maturity has spiked since he arrived in Cleveland and flourished in the LeBron James light. But he still is a risk.

The jumpshots J.R. loves to take, the ones early in the shot clock, the ones that drain the net or the ones that clank off the rim, tell his story. J.R. Smith is a good player but not a great player; he fills a role and a need. But the question is, what exactly is that role worth?

J.R. has zero interest in signing with a team other than the Cavs. A few days ago he was at the Indians game with his teammates having a good time. That is the mistake he is making in this negotiation whereas he is willing to give up his leverage, letting the world and the Cavs front office know he wants to be in Cleveland.  The Cavs are not going to bid against themselves when they don’ t have to for the likes of J.R. Smith. At this point, it’s business and nothing more.

Recently, the Cavs have played hardball with their free agents. It took Tristan Thompson until October to sign his deal and it was worth far less than what he wanted. David Griffin was patient and allowed the marketplace to set the Tristan Thompson price. As a strategy, it worked in the Cavs favor so why not have a redo?

J.R. has been in the NBA over a decade. This may be his last contract. His best year was three years ago when he played 33 minutes for the Knicks and averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. This year with Cleveland, he played 30 minutes and scored 12.4 points, shooting 40% from three.

In 2015-16, J.R.Smith was ranked 5th among shooting guards as far as on-court impact. The guards ahead of him were Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler and James Harden. Right or wrong, his efficiency is being credited to playing with LeBron James.

On the defensive end, he was less effective, ranked 57th, worse than Rodney Hood and Vince Carter (Defensive Real Plus-Minus).

J.R. is adamant: more than a two year deal is the goal with an opt-out. He wants stability and he wants triple the $5 million he made with the Cavs in 2015-16, and he wants a contending team, preferably a return to the Cavs, to show him the money. Once again, he is hoping to cash in and once again he may find himself having to swallow his pride and settle for far less.


photo via llananba