For the second straight season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going through training camp without a key player under contract.
Last season, the Cavaliers were in a stalemate with Tristan Thompson, going all the way through the preseason before re-signing him. This year, it’s J.R. Smith, who remains a free agent.
And LeBron James is not happy.
Speaking from training camp Friday, James called out the Cavs for once again going through camp without a key player from their championship squad (via Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon).
“Negotiations are always two-sides but J.R. did his part. He showed up every day. Worked his arse off every day. Became a two-way player, a model citizen in Cleveland and he’s a fan favourite, obviously we all know that. All of the sudden now he’s a season ticket holder at the Indians games.
“We just miss him. We miss having him around. He’s a big piece of our team and they just need to get it done.”
James seemed to be referring to some of Smith’s recent Instagrams, which appeared to show him sitting at Cleveland Indians games.
James continued, referencing last year’s standoff with Thompson.
“I hate coming into another season — two years in a row — with one of my big guns not here,” James said. “So, for a leader of a team and for me personally, I just hate to deal with this s— again. It’s just too big of a piece to our team to have to deal with in another training camp.”
James said it wouldn’t be good for either side if Smith signed with another team.
This is not the first time LeBron has told the Cavs to bring Smith back. While announcing his own new contract with the Cavs on Uninterrupted, James added, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”
Over the summer, it was reported that Smith was seeking a contract worth about $15 million per year. The deal would not be out of line with what wings signed in free agency this year, particularly after Smith emerged as a capable “three-and-D” wing for the Cavs. The Cavs obviously balked at that price, but on the team’s media day, GM David Griffin said they made Smith an “incredibly aggressive and competitive offer.”
Smith’s situation is somewhat different than Thompson’s. Thompson was a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs could have matched any offer he received from another team. That essentially dissuaded teams from making a competitive offer, knowing they would either have to overpay or have the deal matched by the Cavs. Smith, however, is an unrestricted free agent. Though the market for him doesn’t seem to be hot for the second year in a row, it’s worth wondering if any team would make a push for him if he sits out there long enough.
It ended well for Thompson last season — he signed a five-year, $82-million deal with the Cavs. The consensus seems to be that Smith and the Cavs will eventually reunite, but it’s not a good sign that they’re angering James with a second year of intense contract negotiations.
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