J.R. Smith's big summer gamble appears to have ended in something other than outright disaster. The veteran shooter announced via Instagram on Thursday that he has reached an agreement to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group later reported that Smith will earn $5 million for the 2015-16 season with a player option for the second year of the deal, later confirmed by Yahoo's Marc Spears. Smith will also have a no-trade clause, which is not insignificant given his controversy-filled history and the deal that sent him to Cleveland from the New York Knicks last January.
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You can take a look at Smith's Instagram post here:
Happy to say that I am returning to the Cavs! It’s been a long ride this summer but I can say for sure, well worth the wait. When I opted out of my contract, I wanted to understand the landscape of the NBA and where I fit best. The Cavaliers had things they needed to do in order to piece together a championship caliber roster. I ended up deciding that instead of potentially securing a larger deal elsewhere, I wanted to rejoin an incredible organization in pursuit of the ultimate goal, an NBA championship. Thank you to the Cavaliers for making this happen. Can’t wait to get started! #TheLand
Smith's comment appears to be a sunny spin on a questionable decision. After Cleveland's NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, Smith decided not to take his player option for the final year of his contract, worth just shy of $6.4 million. Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Saturday that recent Cavaliers offers had been below Smith's option figure, and his new deal seems to confirm that news. The Cavs cannot be faulted for that decision, because the franchise's massive offseason salary commitments (with a deal for Tristan Thompson yet to come) mean that they must save money when and where they can.
Most players would be lucky to end up on a contender at any salary, but Smith's claim of wanting to understand landscapes seems questionable when he could have had a similar experience in 2016 while being paid more than a million dollars extra. It's far more likely that he expected a reasonably active market for his services and encountered little interest.
The move makes sense for the Cavaliers for much more than the financials. At the very least, LeBron James is happy:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 21, 2015
It's easy to understand why J.R. is seen as a problematic player. He struggled throughout the NBA Finals, which would have been a problem without injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving but became a catastrophe with both players sidelined. While LeBron did an admirable job in trying to carry the team to a title, Smith stood as the team's most likely breakout scorer and could have turned a game or two with a stellar performance. He didn't, though, and the Cavs fell to a deeper, more versatile Warriors squad.
Yet Smith was a very effective role player for the Cavs up until that series, Smith shot 39.0 percent from three-point range over 46 regular-season games and 35.9 percent in the playoffs with several excellent games. He's not a terrific defender and definitely isn't dependable, but Smith is the sort of x-factor who can help a team win a title under ideal circumstances. The fact that he didn't rise to the occasion vs. Golden State says more about what Cleveland required to beat a 67-win team than anything else.
Personal image aside, the big news with this deal is that the Cavs have retained one of the league's best bench shooters at a rate that allows him to save face and remain committed to the cause. Cleveland looked like the overwhelming East favorite before this announcement and the re-addition of Smith only makes them more formidable. Given the paucity of challengers in the East, it wouldn't be crazy to tab the Cavaliers as the favorite to win the 2016 title. Expect to see them in June.
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