CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the end, the Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are exactly where they wanted to be … back together.
They never were really apart. Not when Smith was attending Indians games with LeBron James & Co. Not when he was at dinner and hanging out with his teammates, even while he was not in practice as his contract was being resolved.
The two parties needed, and wanted, each other.
Smith signed a deal that will guarantee him slightly more than $45 million — although first reports were $57 million over four years.
Understand that this is a very good deal for Smith, who played for $5 million last season. It’s also very good for the Cavs — yes, I use the exact same words. Smith fits with this championship team.
Here’s the money breakdown:
- 2016-17: $12.8 million
- 2017-18: $13.8 million
- 2018-19: $14.7 million
- 2019-20: $15.7 million with 25 percent guaranteed (about $3.8 million).
Smith is represented by Klutch Sports, the agency led by Rich Paul that also represents LeBron James and Tristan Thompson.
Smith hired Klutch to negotiate this deal. It was Klutch’s sports attorney — Mark Termini — who worked out the details.
Consider the following:
1. Smith had turned 31 on Sept. 9, so he’s not ancient. But this will be his 13th NBA season. That’s a lot of miles on the legs of a 6-foot-6 guard who went straight from high school to the pros.
2. The issue was not the cash. Both sides had a general idea of what Smith should be paid each year. But what about the length of the contract?
3. Along with his 3-point shooting, a major part of Smith’s game is athleticism. If he loses some of that speed and jumping ability, that will take away from his defense. Yes, defense has become a very valuable part of Smith’s game.
4. For the agent, the goal when representing a player such as Smith is a contract with as many guaranteed years as possible.
5. For the Cavs, the question was: “How long can Smith continue to play at this level, especially defensively?”
6. Another factor is Smith’s history of fines and suspensions. He has been suspended 27 games in his career. He’s been fined about a dozen times by the NBA or his team.
7. With the Cavs, Smith has generally stayed out of trouble. He was fined for two games for what the NBA considered a cheap shot (an elbow to the head of Jae Crowder) in the 2015 playoffs against Boston. But that was it.
8. Smith has a strong relationship with James. The Cavs have a team with a lot of peer pressure to perform well. It starts with James, but several other veterans help the coaches keep order. It’s a good spot for Smith.
9. Smith’s troubled past and his age meant few teams were considering him as a free agent. Boston expressed a casual interest, but didn’t have the salary cap room.
10. There are reports about Philadelphia wanting Smith, but I have my doubts. The Sixers have a lot of salary cap room and they could have made a big push for Smith at any point. They also are a young, rebuilding team. He doesn’t fit their plan.
11. Smith is ideal here. They need his 3-point shooting. He can defend shooting guards and most small forwards. He is durable. Only once in the last nine years has he played fewer than 70 games. That was in 2011-12.
12. In his two years here, Smith has averaged 12.3 points, shooting .416 from the field (.391 on 3-pointers). General manager David Griffin values 3-point shooters to create openings for Kyrie Irving and James to drive to the rim.
13. In the end, the deal was going to be made. The question was: “For how much over how many years?”
SALARY CAP CONCERNS
1. Because the Cavs are well over the salary cap, Smith’s contract was going to cost more than $12.8 million for 2016-17. The penalty is the luxury tax, and the formula is complicated. Basically, it would cost about $3 million for every million the Cavs spend — or about $39 million.
2. The luxury tax was why the Cavs didn’t match the four-year, $39 million offer sheet restricted free agent Matthew Dellavedova received from Milwaukee. They knew they had to sign Smith. They were not about to pay huge dollars for both.
3. From Smith’s point of view, the Cavs gave Iman Shumpert a four-year, $40 million deal in the summer of 2015. And then there was Dellavedova’s contract. Smith started in front of both of them. The Cavs won a title. He thought he should be paid more than those guys, especially in the age of the exploding salary cap.
4. This wasn’t like giving Tristan Thompson a five-year, $82 million deal in the summer of 2015. Thompson was only 24 when he signed. His best seasons should still be coming as he mentally and physically improves as an NBA player.
5. It was hard to find a comparable contract for Smith. Jamal Crawford signed a three-year, $42 million deal. But only $30 million was guaranteed, and he’s 36! Joe Johnson (35), signed for two years and $22 million with Utah. Both shooting guards are far older than Smith.
6. Portland signed 27-year-old Evan Turner for a mind-numbing $70 million over four years. The Ohio State product averaged only 10.6 points for Boston last season. So he really didn’t enter into the discussion.
7. For the last two summers, the goal of the Cavs and Griffin was to “bring back the band.” He wanted to supplement the roster with a veteran such as Mike Dunleavy, and a promising rookie in Kay Felder. With Smith back, Griffin has had another good off-season.
ABOUT THE CAVS
1. The Cavs haven’t announced it, but Jordan McRae is going to make the team. Other teams have been asking about McRae in trade. So if they do anything with McRae, it would be a deal.
2. McRae is a pure scorer. He averaged 24.3 points in the Las Vegas Summer League. It was 23.4 in the D-League in 2015-16. In preseason, the 6-6 guard is averaging 15.4 points. His defense needs work, but he has a real talent for drawing fouls and piling up the points.
3. Mo Williams is still taking up a roster spot. The Cavs are trying to work out a contract settlement. Williams just had knee surgery. But that stalemate means DeAndre Liggins, Dahntay Jones and Toney Douglas are probably batting for the last spot on the roster. Liggins was the D-League Defensive Player of the Year. My guess is he has the edge.
Cleveland Cavaliers have Terry Talkin’ J.R. Smith’s new contract — Terry Pluto (photos) – cleveland.com