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No laughing matter: J.R. Smith is important to the Cavs

J.R. Smith is still without a team. Why do people enjoy watching him twist in the wind?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Reports are surfacing that J.R. Smith is likely not getting the payday that he was hoping for, and people seem to be enjoying watching the newly-engaged Pied Piper twist in the wind.

SBNation's Tom Ziller's piece alluded to the Latrell Sprewell saga. Many on Twitter teased at J.R.'s hubris for thinking a strong half season could undo a career of bad decisions and bad shot selection. Hell, DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A PROFILE FOR HIM ANYMORE. (Note: This seems to just be the policy for any free agent, and you can find it after some digging, but I'm going to pretend it's a slight against J.R. because that's funnier.)

J.R. does have a history of being something of a bonehead. He's gotten himself suspended at the worst possible times, gunned the Knicks, Nuggets and Hornets out of several games in his career and has definitely made a few questionable moves off the court (LAY THE PIPE, J.R.) He also collapsed in the Finals, unable to provide any burst of offense to a suddenly toothless Cavaliers attack.

That said, he's been a nearly perfect citizen as a Cavalier. His teammates seem to like him, LeBron's clearly a big fan, and he's been an absolute killer at times for the Cavs, helping to blow the lid off of several games to turn tight affairs into blowout wins. He's operated mostly within the offense, taking almost exclusively three-pointers (67% of his field goals were from distance after joining the Cavaliers on January 7.) He also defended more than capably against just about everyone except Steph Curry (but come on, who can?) Basically, he's been the perfect fit on this Cavs team after his inclusion in a trade that most considered a tax to pick up Iman Shumpert.

He was incredible as a release valve, as Ryan Mourton mentioned a few weeks ago:

Of the top 10 players in catch and shoot attempts per game (all shot 4.9 or more) only Kyle Korver (50%) and Klay Thompson(46%) shot better than Smith's 42%. High shooting numbers over a large volume is tough to find, and J.R. is among the best. The Cavs really need him on the weak side of their offense.

In regards to the Finals, outside of a few bad decisions, J.R.'s play is mostly excusable. At this point in his career, he's a great fourth option, someone to spray three-pointers after a defense has already been bent to its breaking point. J.R., ideally, should be the straw that breaks the camel's back, not the entire bale of hay.

With no Kyrie to break down the defense, no Kevin Love to space the floor and whip creative skip passes around and a defense that switched everything, J.R. was out of his depth. I don't think that should be held against him.

What I'm not sure I understand is the reaction/joy to Smith potentially losing money. I've seen people act like he made an irrationally bold gambit borne of his own lack of self-awareness, and I'm not sure that's fair. Smith isn't a supervillain whose dastardly scheme didn't work out, he's just a basketball player trying to make as much money as possible over as many years as possible in an exploding cap climate.

Some of this is J.R.'s own doing. When you become a joke, it's hard to shake that label (re: P, Swaggy.) The Internet specifically loves to pounce on easy trends and make as many jokes as possible (and that's barely a criticism. That's also one of my favorite parts of the internet, depending on context.) When Smith decked Jae Crowder, that's just bad J.R. coming out to play. When he fouled Steph Curry after a pump fake for three free throws in the Finals, it was just a dumb player making a dumb play. The persona that gets built over time becomes entrenched in our collective psyche, sometimes for good reason.

In this instance though, step back and take a look at the reality of the situation. The Cavaliers need J.R., and he was great for them in 2014-15. He's performed well when he's had strong locker room figures leading the charge (LeBron this year, Jason Kidd in NYK,) and should get the chance to do so again in 2015.

Let's learn to love J.R. again. How could you not?