Cleveland Cavaliers veteran guard J.R. Smith has made no secret of his desire to be traded and is now ramping up his efforts to make that happen. He’s now accusing the organization of tanking, with the team having won just two of their first 15 contests.
Smith believes the Cavaliers’ reported preseason mindset of contending for a playoff spot was simply a smokescreen, per Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:
“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can. I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”
The 33-year-old Smith was asked whether or not he’s committed to being a part of that rebuilding effort:
“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win.”
During Smith’s previous 14 seasons in the NBA, he’s played on some teams that have also been far out of playoff contention. In contrast to what he believes is currently taking place with the Cavaliers, he feels that those previous units made more of an effort to win:
“I’ve been on teams where we’ve won 18 games and the development stage was to try to win at any cost. It wasn’t just for my development or the next person. The goal was always to win.”
Smith’s trade request was something that the Cavaliers had already undertaken, but their efforts have thus far come up empty. A chief reason for that lack of success is the remaining money due to him, which has led to some talk about the Cavaliers buying out the veteran. That scenario is something that he currently refuses to consider:
“I don’t want my legacy to be remembered like that in Cleveland. I don’t think that’s fair to the people I see every single day walking around the arena. I don’t think that’s fair to the trainers or equipment guys. … I just look at it differently than being traded. I don’t like the statement of getting bought out.”
Just from a business perspective, the Cavaliers have ample reason for choosing to tank this season. That’s because their first-round pick could potentially end up being the top selection in next June’s draft.
Technically, that pick was sent to the Atlanta Hawks in the January 2017 deal to acquire veteran guard Kyle Korver. However, if the pick ends up being in the top 10, the Cavaliers will be able to keep it.
With the Cavaliers showing no signs of being able to bounce back from their miserable start, the focus on tanking is likely to increase. That will undoubtedly further anger Smith and other veterans, but in Smith’s case, his only option may end up being to ultimately accept that buyout from the team.