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J.R. Smith’s new deal was worth the wait for the Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Thursday, June 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

J.R. Smith was never in danger of leaving Cleveland, but he sure made things interesting during a contract holdout that extended into mid-October. Now, the Cavalier faithful can finally breathe easy. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million deal on Oct. 15 to stay in “The Land”.

“Bringing J.R. back as part of our core group was a priority for us,” said Cavs general manager David Griffin, per NBA.com. “He’s a special part of this family and we are very pleased to have reached an agreement that we all can feel good about. We know he can’t wait to get back on the court with his brothers and we are certain that everyone in this organization and city feels the same way.”

Smith’s return seemed inevitable from the moment he opted out of the final year of his previous contract in June. However, as negotiations reached a stalemate, reports started circulating that the 31-year-old guard might start looking for greener pastures elsewhere. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported a day before Smith inked his new pact that the veteran shooter was considering talking to other teams, with the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly expressing interest.

However, the rebuilding Sixers were never a serious contender to land Smith. Why would a team knee-deep into a youth movement spend big money on a role player entering his 13th pro season? Furthermore, why would a veteran coming off a championship run jump ship to a franchise that’s won 47 games combined in the past three seasons?

Still, according to Stein, the smoke around Philly lit a fire under Cleveland to secure Smith’s services.

The deal was a huge win for both sides, and the financial details makes the four-month long process worth the wait.

  • 2016-17: $12.8 million
  • 2017-18: $13.8 million
  • 2018-19: $14.7 million
  • 2019-20: $15.7 million (partially guaranteed)

After making roughly $11.5 million combined the past two years, the $12.8 million salary for this upcoming season is a nice raise for Smith after a record-breaking campaign. It is also a nice discount for Cleveland after reports surfaced over the summer that Smith was looking for $15 million annually. The partially-guaranteed final year also safeguards the club in case a 34-year-old Swish loses a step or two.

Smith’s deal looks like a steal compared to the huge money given to lesser talents such as Evan Turner (four years, $70 million from Portland), Ian Mahinmi (four years, $64 million from Washington) and Luol Deng (four years, $72 million from L.A. Lakers).

The addition of Smith pushes the Cavs’ payroll to a league-high $125 million. They will also be on the hook for a luxury tax bill in the $30 million range, per ESPN.com. Still, Cleveland was already over the cap without re-signing Smith and his value to the team makes him worth the hefty price tag.

Without Smith’s franchise-record 204 three-pointers last season, the Cavaliers would’ve dropped from second in made treys to 18th. His marksmanship from deep is especially key with LeBron James losing his outside touch (30.9 percent from three last season) as well as the injury concerns surrounding Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Head coach Tyronn Lue also praised the strides Smith made on the defensive end last season.

“He’s become our best defensive player this year.” Lue said in May, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor.

In addition to the impact he provides on the floor, Smith’s return is a huge boost for the Cavs’ locker room and completes the team’s goal of getting the band back together. James, who campaigned for the team to do whatever it takes to retain Smith much like he did with Tristan Thompson a year ago, took to Twitter to express his joy over Smith coming back.

Lue shared similar sentiments prior to the team’s preseason clash with the Chicago Bulls.

“It’s great news,” Lue said. “Any time you get your starting 2-guard back — [he was] a big part of what we did the last two years. It means a lot, so hopefully we get the contract signed and we’ll be going in the right direction.”

Veteran Richard Jefferson, who re-signed with the Cavs this past summer after mulling retirement, celebrated with Smith on Snapchat. Thompson offered his congratulations on Instagram. It was an excellent display of solidarity for a team that struggled with chemistry issues throughout the regular season last year.

With Smith back in the fold, the defending NBA champions are primed for long-term success. Every member of the team’s core is signed for at least the next two seasons. James owns a player option worth $35.6 million in 2018-19. Role players such as Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye aren’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The club also pilfered veteran swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. from Chicago, further bolstering an already stellar backcourt.

The Cavs seem destined for a third NBA Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors. After blowing a 3-1 lead in last season’s championship series, the Warriors added four-time scoring champion and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant to the league’s most explosive offense. It was a move that made headlines, but also cost the team much of the depth that was a strength over the last two years.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are stronger and deeper than ever. All it took was waiting four months for a man who was never going to leave.

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