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Report: J.R. Smith Is ‘Highly Motivated’ for This Upcoming Season

J.R. Smith Cavs

Next week, Cleveland Cavaliers veteran shooting guard J.R. Smith will start his 15th NBA season with a team that’s going in a different direction after the departure of LeBron James.

After having struggles both on and off the court over the past two seasons, there are signs that the 33-year-old is ready to play a greater role in helping shape the course of the team’s immediate future.

Chris Fedor of offered this insight into how Smith is apparently approaching the upcoming campaign:

“Talk to members of the Cavs organization and they will say the same thing: Smith is ‘highly motivated’ after two dreadful seasons.”

Those seasons were marked by injury, family drama, conflict within and outside the organization and being at the center of one of the biggest brain cramps in basketball history. All those factors are presumably the drivers in Smith’s new approach, with a return to his past successes badly needed. In addition, increased competition for playing time among Smith’s teammates demand this new focus.

During the 2016-17 season, Smith missed three months of action with a fractured thumb and was also forced to deal with the premature birth of his daughter, a precarious situation that went on for months. While his reduced numbers in those circumstances are understandable, similar statistics last year offered no such protection from critics.

Smith averaged just 8.3 points per game during last year’s regular season and then just 8.7 in that category during the playoffs. In addition, his defensive skills appeared to erode as Fedor pointed out:

“Smith ranked 494th out of 521 NBA players in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and finished with one of the league’s worst individual defensive ratings.”

The arrival of Dwyane Wade was also seen as one factor in Smith’s decline, since it changed his role and reduced his shot attempts. However, even after Wade was dealt at the trading deadline in February, Smith was unable to get back in sync.

Those struggles were a precursor to his devastating mistake in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Smith grabbed a rebound with the game tied and thinking the Cavaliers were leading by a point, dribbled the ball away from the basket instead of attempting a potential game-winning shot. The Cavaliers ended up losing in overtime and were swept in the series eight days later.

Smith has two years remaining on his contract that will pay him over $30 million, but only $3.8 million of the money for the 2019-20 season is guaranteed. Thus, if he again has a bad year, it’s not inconceivable that the Cavaliers would simply release him and save more than $10 million in the process. Potentially losing that money may not necessarily be the source of his motivation this year, but the Cavs are certainly hoping they get their money’s worth during the 2018-19 season.

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