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How J.R. Smith Can Turn Around His Contract Losses

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

J.R. Smith will still be a Cleveland Cavalier next season; he just won’t be getting as much money to do it. What does that mean for Smith, and more importantly for the Land and their championship aspirations?

After opting out of a $6.4 million option, Smith found out that other teams weren’t ready to give him what he thought he’d be worth, so he re-upped with Cleveland for less:

Which led Buzzfeed to post this:

Smith announced the return on his Instagram account:

I don’t doubt his delight to return to doing the same job for a 28 percent cut in pay, but it is what it is. There is the possibility (and likelihood) that he can opt out and make more money next year, but he would’ve been able to do that if he hadn’t opted out this year. No matter how you slice it, he’s getting paid less money this year.

Smith’s basketball talents aren’t really the issue. That has a lot more to do with the fact that this is a man with a very long list of character problems, ranging from the merely inane and immature (untying opponents’ shoes) to the self-destructive drug issues to the very grave fact that he caused the death of a friend in a car accident when he drove through a stop sign.

In fairness to Smith, once he went to Cleveland last season, there weren’t any reports of him acting stupidly. And that may be because Joakim Noah’s right and “there’s nothing to do in Cleveland.” Smith articulated as much himself, telling David Aldridge of NBA.com:

“I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball. There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball.”

“I always made myself better by staying in the gym. When you replace that with stuff off the court, then you’re taking away from what made you who you are, or what got you to a certain point. It was kind of pulling me down in a sense, of not getting enough rest, not doing things you’re supposed to be doing, things you’re used to doing. So when you start missing those shots you’re supposed to make, especially wide-open shots, it was like, alright, what’s going on, what’s going on? Instead of looking at what it is, you’re reverting to that even more, instead of going back to the basics. So I think that’s the greatest part about being here.”

Smith is in a delicate place, where he has nothing to do and a great leader in LeBron James. Teams were apparently not eager to test whether Smith’s six months of steely resolve to act like an adult are permanent.

But the upshot of all this is that Cleveland is going to retain him, and that’s not a bad deal. After being dealt there, Smith averaged 12.7 points with a 55.5 effective field goal percentage. While he struggled in the Finals, he was quite good in the two series prior to that, where he averaged 15.4 points with an effective field goal percentage of 65.9.

The Cavaliers were 29-4 when he started alongside Kyrie Irving, James, Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov. According to NBA.com, the Cavs’ Net Rating was +7.1 when he was on the court and +4.8 when he wasn’t. His .48 Real Plus-Minus placed him 25th among shooting guards at ESPN, and that’s including his rough time with the Knicks at the start of the season.

For a team like the Cavs, where the primary goal is keeping the band together, it’s a good deal for them and hopefully for Smith, too. Another full season of acting like a responsible grown-up would be good his career. And with the massive cap influx next season, such maturity could have a more favorable impact on his free agency next year.

And in that sense, the little kick in the pants of other teams telling him they weren’t interested could be an incentive to Smith to prove he has his act together. And if that happens, and he does reach his potential, this could blossom into the best $5 million contract in the league.

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