J.R. Smith, a crucial starter and member of the 2016 NBA World Champions, is a man without a team. For now. There isn’t a smart basketball observer I’m aware of that believes Smith will be playing on opening night for a team that isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the second straight year, everyone thinks Smith is going back to the Cavs, and for the second straight year, it’s taken a bit longer to work out than people expected.
It doesn’t mean that it’s a big deal that Smith hasn’t signed. Again, we did this whole thing a year ago. Smith re-upped at the beginning of September after failing to generate much interest in the free agent market. He was unrestricted and could have gone anywhere, but the suitors just weren’t there.
This year, there was some thought that might change. He completed a full season on the straight and narrow. He can change games with his three point shooting, but his shot selection has also improved dramatically over his time in New York. Next to LeBron James, his work ethic has changed. With all the money flooding the free agent market, and not a ton of talent to go around, surely some shooting starved team would make a run at him.
Well, not so much. So here is what we are left with:
If you’re in the Cavs’ shoes, there isn’t another team pushing you to make a deal or give in on a compromise. There isn’t really a rush to get a deal done unless you think Smith will accept a smaller deal from somewhere else. And there’s no real reason to think that might happen. Every extra dollar that J.R. gets is compounded by the team being well into the luxury tax. There isn’t really a reward for “doing the right thing” and giving Smith an above-market deal.
If you’re in Smith’s shoes, you know the Cavs need you. Iman Shumpert was thoroughly underwhelming last season. Matthew Dellavedova is now gone. The Warriors are a lot better. The Cavs have no money to seek out alternatives, except perhaps on the trade market. But losing an asset like Smith for nothing isn’t an option. LeBron James wants Smith back.
The result is that neither side is in a position where they need to move quickly. I’d guess that in the next few weeks you hear rumblings that J.R. Smith is willing to take this situation into the regular season. The longer it goes, the louder LeBron James gets. The further homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs gets from being a possibility. Maybe these things matter, maybe they won’t. Smith will eventually suit up for the Cavs. The resolution of the situation remains murky.