One year after a contract standoff with Tristan Thompson dragged into the preseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in a similar situation with J.R. Smith.
Two months after winning the NBA championship, with September around the corner, Smith remains a free agent.
It’s widely assumed that Smith and the Cavaliers will reunite, but the question is when and who will come out on top.
Smith went through a similar experience last season when he opted out of a $6.4 million player option to become a free agent, only to find a dry open market. He ended up re-signing with the Cavs on a two-year deal worth $5 million per season, but opted out again this season.
In July, reports surfaced that Smith was asking for a contract worth about $15 million per year — that he remains unsigned suggests the Cavaliers won’t go that high.
The issue has largely been silent since. Smith posted a video via Uninterrupted last week before his charity golf tournament, addressing media, “I know you guys are going to ask me about my contract situation. You’ve got my agent’s number so you all can call him. Rich Paul. Y’all know what it is.”
Working in Smith’s favour is that he’s represented by Paul, who also represents LeBron James and Thompson. James, in his own announcement of his re-signing on Uninterrupted, added, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.” Thompson ended his holdout with an $82 million deal. Smith hopes for a similar outcome.
Also working in Smith’s favour is his value to the Cavaliers. Smith is a potent threat from beyond the arc, providing crucial spacing to the Cavs’ offence. When defences key in on James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, Smith can hit open threes or attack off the dribble. Furthermore, in his second year with the Cavs, Smith’s defence improved, making him their go-to “three-and-D” threat over Iman Shumpert, who had an underwhelming season.
So, with Matthew Dellavedova gone, and Shumpert coming off an unspectacular season, Smith would seem to hold all the leverage in his asking price. However, for the second straight summer, it seems league-wide interest in Smith is low.
While Smith had one of the best seasons of his career, there are still question marks about his game. Some teams seem sceptical of whether Smith would continue his defensive effort in another city and whether he’d behave as well off the court as he has in Cleveland. Similarly, despite shooting 40% from three-point range in 2015-16, Smith’s overall field goal percentage was 41% — he remains something of a high-volume, low-efficiency offensive player.
There isn’t any buzz that Smith will be in a different uniform come October. However, as Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor notes, James is hosting Cavaliers workouts in September, adding some urgency to Smith’s contract situation. If neither side is willing to compromise, the Cavaliers may have another contract impasse bleed into the fall.
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