Zhaire Smith has overcome a great deal to keep his NBA dream alive, and his mindset now is to make the Cleveland Cavaliers roster for the 2023-24 season.
“Really just do what I do best,” Smith said to HoopsHype about his mindset with the Cavs. “Just go out there and play hard. Compete and be coachable.”
Smith last played in the NBA in the 2019-20 season for the Philadelphia 76ers and appeared in 13 regular season games total over two campaigns with them.
The 24-year-old is with the Cavs on an Exhibit 10 contract after playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in Summer League this offseason, when he averaged 6.0 points per game in four contests.
Smith does have some pedigree as a former first-round pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2018 NBA Draft out of Texas Tech University, where he averaged 11.3 points per game and shot 55.6 percent from the field.
He has not been able to establish himself in the NBA as of yet, facing setbacks such as a foot injury and very serious allergic reaction that hospitalized him for around a month and a half and caused him to lose about 60 pounds.
He is being given a chance by the Cavs, who are looking to get back to the playoffs after making them last season for the first time since the 2017-18 campaign.
“I’m really just encompassing and helping the team win and playing great,” Smith said. “Just being me, just showing them that I’m healthy. Out there being athletic, being Zhaire Smith.
“I want to make the roster, but hopefully, get a two-way [deal] and convert that into a one-year deal by the end of the season, which is being patient, trusting God’s time, putting my head down and grind.”
If he makes the team, Smith would be a reserve player on a club led by a talented young core of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
The Cavs made several moves this offseason to improve their offense and depth, notably adding Max Strus and Georges Niang. But they also made other moves, including adding Ty Jerome, and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff recently said it will be hard to keep the guard off the floor based on his play early in training camp.
Bickerstaff also has noticed good things in Strus’ game, saying he will bring more than just 3-point shooting to the team.
With other Eastern Conference teams improving this offseason as well, the Cavs will need contributions from up and down the roster to remain contenders. Perhaps Smith can bring a perspective of perseverance considering all that he has gone through to reach this point in his career.