J.R. Smith talks free agency as season looms

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Saturday, September 17, 2016

With the Cleveland Cavaliers set to open their season with a voluntary minicamp in California in less than a week, free-agent guard J.R. Smith shed some light on what is holding up his decision.

"Yes and no," Smith told Complex in an interview published Friday, when asked if re-signing with the Cavaliers was his "best" option. "It depends on how you look at it.

"Financially, you can always go somewhere else. Team morale-wise, there are a few teams that I could see working. There are guys I would like to play with, guys I have played with. Being able to live in that city or a particular place, school systems, kids, family life -- [with] free agency, everything comes into play. Before, I could just sit there and be like, 'I don't care where I go.' But now I have the kids, and it's like, 'OK, what's the best fit?'"

Smith did not pick up his $5.3 million player option for the 2016-17 season in July, becoming an unrestricted free agent after averaging 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals and hitting 204 3-pointers in 77 starts for Cleveland.

The 2012-13 NBA Sixth Man Award winner, who turned 31 this month, sought to cash in on a robust free-agent market this summer that saw several journeymen shooting guards (Eric Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Courtney Lee) sign deals worth north of $10 million annually.

A source familiar with the negotiations between Smith and the Cavs told ESPN that Smith's camp is prepared to be "in it for the long haul" until a deal is agreed upon.

Smith is represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Paul also represents Cavs starters LeBron James and Tristan Thompson. Last year, Thompson missed the majority of training camp over a protracted contract holdout before settling on a five-year, $82 million extension.

In response to being asked when he expected to reach an agreement with the Cavs, Smith told Complex: "Soon, I hope."

Cleveland, already over the salary cap with the 12 players it has under contract, would be limited to signing a player to a veteran's minimum contract or facilitating a deal to use one of its trade exceptions in order to replace Smith should he sign with another team. Smith's options are seemingly also limited, with the only teams with significant cap space remaining -- the 76ers, Nuggets, Nets, Suns and Jazz -- either being in rebuilding mode or already stocked at shooting guard.

James has publicly stumped for the Cavs to reach a deal with Smith, writing on his Instagram account earlier this month when wishing Smith a happy birthday: "Enjoy your day to the fullest and know i can't wait to get back to work on that court with u as my wing backcourt mate!! Let's go."

"Well, obviously we're not where we want to be at from a personal standpoint," Smith told Complex. "But it's more than just numbers. I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of the Cavs for everything they've done for me, and I don't want them to feel like I'm taking advantage of them. It's more of a mutual respect thing."