When the Cavaliers officially announced that they had re-signed James Jones on Wednesday, it didn’t come as a surprise. Jones is a favorite teammate of LeBron James, a leader in the locker room and he plays a valuable, stabilizing role on a Cavs team that has publicly labeled itself as dramatic.
Better yet, Jones literally has won an award for being a good teammate as voted on by his teammates. There is no bigger co-sign than your teammates giving you an award for being someone they like having around.
But Jones won’t play much next year and when he does see the floor, it’s going to be in garbage time or if the players in front of him get hurt. All Jones can really do is shoot threes, set picks and run basic pick and pops. He’s not quick enough to defend threes, he’s too small to defend fours and he’s simply not a night in and night out rotation player.
In that sense, there’s a case to be made that Jones is taking up a roster spot and is a waste of cap space. Next year, Jones will make the veteran’s minimum of $1.55 million and with the Cavs in the tax, that means Jones will cost about $2.45 million depending on what LeBron James and J.R. Smith end up costing. By comparison, that’s about what Cleveland spent on the second round draft pick they bought from the Hawks in June to select Kay Felder.
The Cavs, at least since LeBron came back, have gone all in and spent extra on guys they want around, at least to a point. One of the things that hurt the Heat’s relationship with LeBron was their decision to not pony up to pay Mike Millerl Cleveland’s ethos has been, basically, to not do that.
In theory, the Cavs could do a few things with the money they’d have if they hadn’t re-signed Jones. For one, they could just leave the spot open, not spend the money and take their time finding a minimum player they think can help the team now. It’s what the Cavs did last year when their 15th roster spot was kept open for much of the season, allowing them sign sign Jordan McRae and then add Dahntay Jones when another opened up. And if they wanted, the money they spent on Jones could be used on a younger, perhaps more useful veteran free agent like Larry Sanders or Norris Cole.
But Jones is different. On a team that has wonky chemistry at times, having a guy around to be a voice of reason matters. Having a guy around to be a sounding board and to be there to help the team get through the rough patches matters. Having a guy who, despite not playing much, shows up day after day to work towards the team’s shared goals matters.
If LeBron is the guy setting the tone on the floor and setting broader, macro goals, Jones is the guy doing the little things necessary to keep the team ticking day by day. Plus, even if/when LeBron, Smith and Felder all sign, Cleveland will still have a roster spot to spare if they want to use in on a developmental player or leave the roster spot open to save money. Keeping Jones doesn’t mean the Cavs can’t or won’t add someone else. As long as Dan Gilbert is willing to spend, anything is possible.
And Jones truly does have the respect of teammates not named LeBron. Just take this Instagram post from Kevin Love for example. There’s no one the Cavs could sign right now that would have the ability to resonate in the locker room and have that much respect from the other players on the roster:
Those of you who know Champ will appreciate this... I’d like to tribute the best teammate I've ever had, James Jones aka Champ. You taught me more than you know the past 2 years— what it takes to win, how to be a better teammate, how to balance the good/bad off the court, and most importantly...putting team first. Sacrifice for the better of the team, and in order to lead sometimes you have to learn to follow. You’ve been to 6 straight Finals. You’ve been the constant presence we needed in the locker room. You’re the ultimate work horse. The lessons you taught me will stay with me for the rest of my career and life after basketball. No one can avoid the ups and downs of the Playoffs, and when many wrote me off after a tough stretch in the Finals… you and the team stuck by me allowing me to flourish and make plays when it mattered most. Like you told me not too long ago, “don’t be afraid to be yourself.” And now I’ll never be— thanks for everything. Keep being you Champ. -
If this were another guy - a Dahntay Jones type, for instance - it would certainly make sense to part ways with Jones. At some point, carers end and teams have to look for younger, potentially more playable options.
But Jones isn’t that type of player. He maybe can’t play an on-court role, but he’s still irreplaceable.