The NBA season is just weeks away, and once again, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in a standoff with one of their main rotation players.
Three months after helping the Cavaliers win the championship and hitting free agency, J.R. Smith and the Cavs still haven’t agreed to a new deal.
Now, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Smith is prepared to skip the team’s minicamp where players and coaches will meet in California in the coming weeks.
This is not a particularly unusual step for players in contract standoffs — why would Smith show up if he’s technically still a free agent? — but when these situations begin to bleed into the preseason, it becomes more noteworthy. If Smith still hasn’t signed this week when the team begins working out, it looks more and more like a holdout, and he’ll be missing valuable time with the team. As Windhorst notes, the Cavs held a similar camp in Miami last year, which later became the roots of their championship run.
It sounds as if Smith and the Cavs are still expected to reunite, but the bigger questions are when and for how much. In July, it was reported that Smith was asking for $15 million per year, which appeared to be higher than the Cavs were willing to go. After an offseason that saw teams spend generously on free agents, the two sides have been quiet since.
Smith has addressed his contract status over the summer. In a September interview with Complex, Smith said of the negotiations:
“Well, obviously we’re not where we want to be at from a personal standpoint. But it’s more than just numbers. I don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of the Cavs for everything they have done for me, and I don’t want them to feel like I’m taking advantage of them. It’s more of a mutual respect thing.”
He added he hopes to be signed soon.
Smith has support, too. In a video on Uninterrupted to announce his own re-signing with the Cavs, LeBron James added, “let’s get JR done,” referencing the ongoing impasse.
Last year, the Cavaliers were in a standoff with restricted free agent big man Tristan Thompson. Thompson missed all of preseason before signing a five-year, $82 million contract. If there’s hope for Smith to get a deal he wants, it’s that the Cavaliers have no reliable replacement for his skills and they have stepped up to pay their free agents before.
Until the Cavs get to that point, however, this standoff may take a while.