Two-and-a-half shorts years ago, everything was wonderful for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had just won Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964, LeBron James was not only the King of The Land but of the entire universe,1 Kyrie Irving was breaking ankles while donning the wine and gold, Kevin Love was busy shutting down Steph Curry, and David Griffin was still leading the charge in the front office, making sure everything was smooth involving the organization.
Fast forward to November 2018 and there are just four members of that championship team remaining on the Cavs, two of which barely see the court. Channing Frye wasn’t expected to, but for JR Smith, he was expected to at least contribute. In fact, some even thought he would start. With the Cavs dropping their seventh game in the first eight games of the season, Smith registered a DNP once again, his fourth one in eight games. In fact, he has totaled just 48 minutes so far this season.
For that alone, he deserves to ask for a trade from the Cavs, and that’s essentially what he did during Thursday’s shootaround. When asked by a reporter if he was open for a trade, Smith responded with a “yes”. He didn’t officially request a trade, but you can put the pieces together.
“To feel like you’re going to play one day, and then you just don’t play. … To not even look me in my face and tell me. That’s disrespectful,” he added.
“They know. They don’t want me so they obviously know. Moves could’ve been made to prevent this situation, but of course, we’re in this situation now, so, it is what it is. It’s hard to be somewhere where you know they don’t want you there,” Smith said. “You gotta go in there (the locker room) and put on this front and act like you’re so happy. Regardless, we all make a ton of money. That’s not what this is about. I can’t even be competitive anymore. For somebody in my shoes, that’s the hardest part.”
"To feel like you're going to play one day, and then you just don't play … To not even look me in my face and tell me. That's disrespectful."
J.R. Smith clearly not happy right now with the Cavs. pic.twitter.com/JLkT6gNFQm
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) November 1, 2018
During his first three-and-a-half years with the wine and gold, Smith was a key part of the Cavs. Playing in 248 regular-season games (218 starts) and 79 playoff games (64 starts), the sharpshooter was someone LeBron and company could count on to knock down an open three-pointer. He was even able to create some space and a shot for himself when counted on at times as well.
With James now out west, the Cavs have decided to play his younger players, attempting somewhat of a youth movement. Then-head coach Tyronn Lue continued to play Smith even though the front office and owner Dan Gilbert wanted the younger guys to play more,2 Just eight games into the season, Smith has already been told multiple times that he will no longer be part of the Cavs’ rotation. Due to his competitive nature and the type of person and player he is, the veteran was beyond frustrated when learning of that both times. That, added with the fact that he was told that the team wasn’t going to rebuild and rather stay competitive seems to be the most glaring reason for his frustration.
General manager Koby Altman even gave him the option to take a leave of absence from the organization since he’ll remain “glued to the bench”, but he declined because he wants to at least be somewhat of a veteran leader while he is still in Cleveland, according to cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor.
“I just worry about what I can control, worry about being a good vet to these young guys who are playing,” he said. “Cheer for ’em, help ’em as much as they want me to help. I can’t take it personal against my teammates. Regardless of who’s out there, who’s not out there, I’m always going to be a good teammate to my teammates. Other than that, I’m buying time, I guess.”
The reason he decided not to take a leave of absence: The fans. Smith seems to love Cavs fans as much as they love him, which truly shows the type of relationship the fanbase has for their guy.
“I can’t do that to these fans, I can’t do it to the city,” Smith said during Thursday’s shootaround. “To come from where I came from, from pretty much nothing to Cleveland and the way the city embraced me, the fans embraced me, the relationship I have with them, I can’t do that to them. It’s not about me, it’s not about who wants me here and who doesn’t want me here, for me it’s all about the fans.”
— Angel Gray (@Angel_Gray1) November 1, 2018
WFNY’s own Andrew Schnitkey summed up my feelings about this entire situation perfectly.
It pains me watching the JR Smith saga play out. It angers me that the Cavs front office botched this offseason this badly and now we're stuck with all this chaos and drama.
— Andrew Schnitkey (@RockWFNY) November 1, 2018
JR deserve better than this. He should be treated with more respect. Fine, it's a business. But even in business, there are ways to treat people respectfully even when you make decisions they won't like. This mess all falls squarely on the Cavs front office.
— Andrew Schnitkey (@RockWFNY) November 1, 2018
There are plenty of things we can critique and question that involves the decisions that Gilbert and Altman have made, and this is just another one to add to the list. While the youth movement somewhat makes sense, especially given how the Cavs have struggled early on in the season and with their top-10 protected first-round pick, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this could have been handled much better.
While some fans may just want Smith to be quiet after signing a four-year, $57 million deal prior to the 2016-17 season, something needs to be said about him wanting to play and compete. It’s completely understandable, too. With all he has done for the Cavs, the 33-year-old doesn’t have too many quality years left in the NBA and deserves to take advantage of his time in the league.
Smith was a big reason why the Cavs overcame a 3-1 series deficit and won the championship in 2016, for that alone he will be a legend in Cleveland forever. Add in how much he loves the fanbase, and his legacy is secured in The Land. Now, he deserves to not only play but be on a winner. His $14.72 million salary this season may be tough to swallow for any other team in the league via a trade. The veteran has a career 37.3 percent clip from beyond the arc in his career. Considered a streaky shooter, teams around the league may think a trade for that isn’t necessarily worth it due to being able to find cheaper alternatives. That will likely be the Cavs biggest problem when looking for a trade partner. For those curious, Smith has made it known that he won’t accept a buyout, according to The Athletic’s Joe Vardon. Unless that changes, the only way he will leave the Cavs is by a trade.
While he’s owed almost $15 million this season, just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million is guaranteed next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020, that may be an intriguing deal for a contender that’s looking for a shooter. Hopefully, the Cavs can send Smith to a legitimate contender sooner rather than later. He at least deserves that.