For the second straight offseason, J.R. Smith has lingered in free agency. Only this time, his destination seems like even more of a foregone conclusion than before.
The mercurial shooting guard remains an unrestricted free agent despite having done well to rehabilitate his career in Cleveland. It’s fairly assumed he will return to the Cavaliers after helping the franchise to its first NBA championship despite his reputation for being a character risk. While the 31-year-old Smith remains estranged, he acknowledges the Cavs are the team with which he’s negotiating.
“Well, obviously we’re not where we want to be at from a personal standpoint,” Smith told Adam Campbell of Complex.com during a golf outing in New Jersey. “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.”
Smith told Campbell he doesn’t know when he will re-sign with the Cavs but did remark, “Soon, I hope,” when asked specifically about his timeline. Cleveland opens training camp on Sept. 27 and begins preseason play shortly thereafter. It’s not like Smith’s role will be in question upon return. The Cavaliers still employ Iman Shumpert, but they are thin at guard after the departure of Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams’ potential retirement.
Cleveland re-signed Smith last summer after a shorter standoff. He ended up coming back for $5 million, which was less than the player option he turned down to move into free agency. He’s asking for a significant salary bump considering the NBA salary cap’s rise to $94M. Smith watched former teammates Dellavedova secure $38M and Timofey Mozgov sign for $64M.
Despite being well over the cap, the Cavaliers can offer Smith a substantial raise due to owning his Bird rights. The veteran didn’t rule out signing elsewhere, but Campbell notes he and the Cavs are likely headed for a reunion.