Cleveland Cavaliers Can’t Afford to Lose J.R. Smith

2016 NBA Finals - Game Six
Ezra Shaw-Getty Images

The initial insanity of NBA free agency has come and gone for the most part. However, two big names still need to be re-signed by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For one, franchise cornerstone LeBron James still remains without a new contract. That said, this is merely a matter of time, as he’s already told the team he’s returning.

The other player still in need of a deal is J.R. Smith. Updates have been few and far between when it comes to the status of his negotiations. GM David Griffin has implied the Cavs will work to get a deal done, and it certainly seems as though Smith wants nothing more than to return next year. That said, we’re a couple weeks into free agency, and no real progress has been made.

Over the weekend, Smith broke the silence on his end with some mildly concerning comments. In an interview with ESPN, he implied he was receiving interest from other teams who were willing to offer more than the Cavs, and it was enough to make him ponder leaving the team.

“I’ve thought about that situation (leaving Cleveland), and I’ve thought about it the other way, too, going back and winning again,” Smith said. “Both are juggled in the air and I’m kind of nervous about that choice when it gets presented to me.”

While I still think the smart money says Smith remains a Cavalier, it’s clear the team needs to get moving on this. The longer Cleveland waits, the more likely the possibility of him leaving grows. Frankly, the loss of Smith would be one the Cavs would struggle to overcome.

After yet another successful season in Cleveland, Smith understandably would like to stay where he’s wanted. Also understandable is the fact he wants a boost in salary.

Word is Smith is looking for something in the $15 million per year range. It’s certainly an understandable ask when you consider Timofey Mozgov – who flat-out vanished from Cleveland’s rotation last year – just got $16.4 million per year from the Los Angeles Lakers.

As we all know by now, the Cavs are already over the cap. Sure, they could still re-sign Smith at $15 million a year, it would just result in a higher luxury tax bill. Owner Dan Gilbert already proved last year such a thing isn’t a big issue, so one would think this deal could get done.

Yet, based on Smith’s quotes, the potential of him leaving is real.

The hope is it’s just an attempt to get the ball rolling on his part, perhaps using some gamesmanship the likes of what we saw from Tristan Thompson last year. This makes more sense when you realize Smith switched over to Klutch Management, the same group which represents Thompson and James.

Additionally, it’s tough to determine whether or not anyone’s really reaching out. Despite Smith saying he’s received interest from other teams, no rumors have really surfaced indicating just which ones are calling him.

Despite this, the Cavs can’t afford to risk trying to wait Smith out. It worked last year when he opted out and ended up re-signing for less when no other clubs expressed interest. However, to bet on this scenario taking place again is risky, especially after another strong season.

Should Smith actually leave, Cleveland loses a proven starter who isn’t exactly replaceable. The Cavs lack the cap space available to go out and find a worthy replacement. The team would simply have to sign one of the few available vets for minimum salary or figure out how to solve the problem from within.

Iman Shumpert would seem like a safe choice to start, but he lacks the scoring touch Smith brings. Vets like James Jones and, potentially, Richard Jefferson are better served as bench players. Toss in the fact summer league superstar Jordan McRae is still unproven in the pros and you can see why the loss of Smith could be a big one for the Cavs.

At the moment, the odds still favor him sticking with Cleveland. That said, this doesn’t mean the team should just take its sweet time. Whether or not Smith is receiving genuine interest from across the league is anyone’s guess. However, if the Cavs are too patient, it could result in one of their starters getting poached with no backup plan waiting in the wings.


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