With the 2014-15 season now officially at an end, the roster for next season’s edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers begins to take shape, with veteran guard J.R. Smith apparently indicating that he’ll opt out of his contract for next season.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted after Tuesday night’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors that Smith had told him that he would opt out of his deal that would pay him $6.4 million.
JR Smith told me he’ll probably opt out of the final year, $6.4 million of his contract
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 17, 2015
However, a subsequent tweet from Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer clarified the message that it could conceivably send to both the Cavs’ management and fan base by stating that the move didn’t preclude Smith from returning to the team next season. To that end, Haynes had earlier tweeted that Smith “absolutely” plans to return to the Cavaliers.
J.R. Smith says he “absolutely” plans to be back with #Cavs next year. He has a player option.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 17, 2015
Last month, the New York Post quoted Smith about his current situation, with Smith saying, “To be able to do this, it’s unreal to be in this situation and this position. I could have been in the worst situation, but my prayers have been answered. I’m playing with arguably the greatest player to ever play the game.” Smith then added, “People that come in every day and enjoy what they do and work hard at what they do, like Tristan (Thompson) and the rest of the guys. I’m in a great situation, and I just want to take full advantage of everything I can at this point.”
The debate among the Cavaliers’ brain trust could boil down to whether the team is interested in keeping Smith. That issue was not really in question during the regular season, when the resurgent Cavaliers thrived after the arrival of Smith, Shumpert and center Timofey Mozgov.
The Cavaliers have a number of contract negotiations set for the offseason, with other players like LeBron James and Kevin Love expected to opt out of their deals as well before then presumably re-signing.
In 46 regular season games with the team, the 30-year-old Smith averaged 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. In the postseason, Smith’s rebounding average rose, his assists per game dropped, while his scoring stayed the same.
However, he was suspended for the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Chicago Bulls after getting into an altercation in the clinching victory over the Boston Celtics on April 26.
Then, in the NBA Finals, with the exception of the first half of Game 5, Smith’s frigid shooting proved to be costly to Cleveland’s hopes of winning the series. He was five of eight from the field during that first half of Game 5, including four of seven from beyond the three-point line. In the remaining 22 quarters and two overtime periods, he was 19 of 69 (27.5%) from the field and 11 of 44 (25%) in three-point attempts.
While it’s possible that the Cavaliers will pursue other options, Smith’s connection with James could ultimately determine his status. The two have known each other since high school, with James describing himself as a big brother to Smith. That sort of connection appears to be as good an indicator as any as to how this situation will play out.