The J.R. Smith Ordeal is Another Mess the Cavaliers Could’ve Avoided

David Liam Kyle-NBAE via Getty Images

This week, the Cleveland Cavaliers front office is learning a very important lesson. You see, if you tell your players and coaching staff the upcoming season isn’t going to be a rebuild, and then make it clear right from the get-go this season is basically a rebuild, a lot of people are going to be upset.

Recently-fired coach Tyronn Lue was. Interim-but-still-technically-not-interim coach Larry Drew is. Kevin Love is.

Today, we learned J.R. Smith is, too, as he expressed his frustration about lost playing time and insisted he’d like to be traded.

Awesome. Things are going great for the reigning Eastern Conference champs.

The whole ordeal has understandably been a frustrating one for anyone who follows the Cavs. What makes it more frustrating, though, is how avoidable it all could’ve been.

Had Cleveland’s front office not spent the entire offseason feeding players and coaching staff lies about contending this year, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing so much turmoil.

Smith’s media session today was quite a sight to behold. He looked like a shell of a human being, expressing anger about how he wasn’t told by the front office how quickly he’d be completely removed from the rotation. He also said he wasn’t expecting the Cavs to begin the rebuilding process this year, based on what was said to him by the team over the summer.

Sound familiar? It should, because that’s why Love has been vocally opposing the front office. It’s why Lue scrapped the plan to knock vets like Smith and Kyle Korver out of the rotation just three games in, which ultimately led to his firing.

Smith said as much today, claiming Lue went through with his decision knowing it went against the front office’s wishes, knowing it may cost him his job.

Almost all the turmoil occurring in Cleveland in this still-young season is based on the fact the team’s higher ups told everyone there would be no rebuilding in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure, and then doubled back on this the second the season opened. It’s a self-inflicted wound which was so easily and laughably avoidable.

There was no gray area about Cleveland’s message this offseason. It was cut and dry – we expect to contend. Sure, hearing this while looking at the Cavs roster led to a ton of head-scratching. However, it didn’t stop the front office from pushing this narrative with Love, Lue, Smith and everyone else.

We’ve since learned this wasn’t the Cavs’ plan. Not even close.

They insisted Lue prioritize the younger players instead of the playoff-season vets. Guys they kept around for their experience barely touched the court. When Lue made moves to try and help the team win faster, he was canned.

His firing was hardly well received in the locker room, and is now serving as a breaking point for more than a few players who aren’t beating around the bush when voicing their frustration.

To think, all it would’ve taken to avoid this was simply telling everyone involved, “Look, James is gone, playoffs are out of the equation. We want to start rebuilding. If you’re in, great. If not, let us know and we’ll try to move you.”

Apparently, that was too easy. That would’ve turned off fans and decreased ticket sales. That would’ve been a public admission from owner Dan Gilbert that he can’t build an instant contender without the help of the best player on the planet.

So here we are, not even a month into the season, watching yet another member of the team publicly admit he was lied to by the front office.

Gilbert and company have always had a terrible way of running things with this team. They just so happened to have the benefit of James for the past four years, whose greatness helped overshadow the chaos.

He’s gone now, and, as a result, the Cavs’ warts are on full display. Players are watching a rebuild take place, one they were promised wasn’t happening. A coach was fired for trying to help notch a few victories. His replacement was named interim head coach before the front office even spoke to him about it, and now he’s refusing the title until he gets a restructured contract.

As a result, Cleveland has been thrust into full-scale chaos the likes of which we haven’t seen since James’ first departure in 2010. And it’s all coming from the front office’s decision to pretend a rebuild wasn’t happening while hoping nobody on the team would notice.

They did, and now they’re pissed. Funny how things work out that way.

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook


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