J.R. Smith declined a $6.4 million player option for next season, hitting free agency and hoping to secure a more lucrative long-term deal. That deal never came, and Smith waited and waited before finally coming to an agreement on a new contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which was the expected outcome of the ordeal.
Smith’s new two-year, $10 million contract is a good deal for both sides. For Smith, he doesn’t get too much less annually than the player option he declined, and he has a player option on the second year of this new deal, which allows him to opt out again next summer and potentially take advantage of the surging salary cap. He also has veto rights to any possible trade this upcoming season because of the nature of this contract.
For the Cavaliers, they save some money by giving Smith less than the $6.4 million player option, and they also could have a valuable piece on a relatively cheap deal for two seasons. Sure, it seems unlikely the shooting guard opts in next summer, but perhaps he does and then hits free agency when the cap jumps again in 2017.
Whatever Smith decides to do next summer, bringing him back for at least this upcoming season was a necessary move for Cleveland. That may seem crazy to say considering we’re talking about J.R. Smith here, but we can’t forget how important he was last year after he came over from the New York Knicks.
There were several reasons the Cavaliers struggled at the beginning of last season, and one was a lack of outside shooting around the Big Three. Shawn Marion, Dion Waiters and Mike Miller offered very little from beyond the arc, so Cleveland set out to find an upgrade on the wing to improve the three-point shooting.
Enter Smith and Iman Shumpert, although it was Smith who really helped juice up the offense with his spot-up shooting. Smith was a problem for the Knicks, but New York’s trash became Cleveland’s treasure, as Smith found his game and stayed out of trouble throughout the rest of the regular season. He shot 39 percent from three and made over 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities, per SportVU.
Furthermore, Smith ranked in the 95th percentile last season in spot-up opportunities with Cleveland, scoring 1.23 Points Per Possession, according to Synergy. He finished seventh in PPP among players with at least 100 spot-up possessions, trailing only Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Stephen Curry, Damjan Rudez, Chris Paul and Anthony Morrow.
We saw some of Smith’s shortcomings in the NBA Finals, and he also got himself into trouble when he drew a two-game suspension for smacking Jae Crowder in the face of the first round of the playoffs. But Smith was great against the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks in the postseason, and when his role is to simply to stretch the floor for his stud teammates, he’s a lethal weapon as a catch-and-shoot bomber.
As long as LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving can stay healthy, Smith can embrace that role as a deadly spot-up shooter. Those four had an offensive rating of nearly 115 when they shared the court together last season, and that number was over 116 when you add in Timofey Mozgov, per NBA.com. That’s crazy good, and Smith returning and being a consistent contributor will only make Cleveland a more legitimate title contender.
Now the Cavaliers just need to get that Tristan Thompson deal done.