JR Smith entered the NBA out of St. Benedict Preparatory High School in Newark, New Jersey. Now 30, he is in his 12th NBA season and an integral part of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has designs of an NBA title after losing in last year’s Finals to Golden State.
Smith was traded by the New York Knicks last season and coming to Cleveland has revived his career. He is 20th on the NBA all-time list with 1,551 three-pointers and remains a major long-range threat. He has experienced ups and downs on and off the court, but now seems to be revived by playing on an NBA title contender. We caught up with Smith after a recent game in Philadelphia.
What has it been like being on a team with NBA championship aspirations and what has it meant for your career?
JR Smith: It means a lot. When I dream of having chance to win a championship, to be in a situation where I can actually contend for one, it is great. I have been on a lot of bad teams and have been on good teams, but to believe you have a chance going into the season and throughout the season means a lot.
You guys were banged up, but what was it like playing in your first NBA Finals last year?
JRS: It was great. It was everything I thought it would be. The atmosphere, the intensity, the meaning for every possession. It was everything I thought it would be.
Where is your game at this point?
JRS: It is polished. There is always room for improvement. I won’t say I am satisfied with it, but it feels good right now.
You don’t waver much in numbers concerning your three-point shooting. For instance, other than your rookie year you have shot between 33 percent and 40 percent from beyond the arc each season. Is that consistency the tell-tale of your career?
JRS: Yes, my numbers have been pretty consistent, from the start of my career in New Orleans until here in Cleveland. I try to be as consistent as possible. Normally, I am in the same role, which is easier than trying to distribute or create. It is pretty much catch and shoot, catch and drive and just play my game.
You are 20th in the NBA history in three-pointers made, but you have never been in the three-point shooting contest. Would you like to be?
JRS: Yes, of course. When I was younger my goal was to win a dunk contest, win a three-point contest. The dunk contest is out for me, so the three point contest is hopefully next.
You were the co-MVP of the 2004 McDonalds All-American Game (with Dwight Howard), scoring 25 points. Did that game catapult you to turn pro or were you going to regardless?
JRS: I was thinking about it, but that game definitely catapulted it. I always had aspirations coming out of high school so that put me in the best situation.
Were you in the slam dunk contest as a McDonald’s All-American?
That was the dunk contest won by Candace Parker. What do you remember about that?
JRS: It was crazy. Everybody knew she would be in it. We started missing dunks and then she pulled off one and I think she closed her eyes or something like that. It was nuts to be part of it.
What was it like coming to the NBA right out of high school?
JRS: It was fun. I loved it. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely make the same decision. I got to play with a lot of vets, a lot of great players, coaches. If anything, I just wish I could do it over again to know what I know now. That is for everybody in their career, but me definitely.
I know you get asked this all the time, but what is it like playing with LeBron James?
JRS: For one, he elevates everybody’s game and holds everybody to a higher standard. He makes you hold yourself to a higher standard. This is the first team I have been on where everybody stays after practice to work on their game. Everybody wants to be better every single day and a lot of that has to do with him. He is a credit to that. He holds himself to a high standard. We see how hard he works each and every day. If your best player is working twice as hard as the next person, it gives you enthusiasm and drive to work harder.
You are a former Sixth Man of the Year. Does it make a difference coming off the bench or starting and do you prepare differently for the different roles?
JRS: I don’t prepare differently. It doesn’t really matter to me. It is a matter of what lineup works best for our team. For this team, it is probably better that I start because I help stretch the floor and give LeBron and Kyrie (Irving) opportunities to work. It would be easier for me to play with the first unit because we can swing the ball, move the ball better.
Can you believe you are 30?
JRS: I was talking to Tristan (Thompson) the other day and he said, ‘Man, you have been around a long time.’ I said thanks I appreciate it. I look back on my career and I have been playing on multiple 50-win teams in Denver and playing in New York and New Orleans, it has been fun and it has been a helluva ride. To be able to still be 30-years-old and be 12 years in, it is a blessing.
You have qualified for the playoffs eight times and appeared in 69 playoff games. What do you take from being on so many postseason teams?
JRS: I still haven’t reached the mountain top yet. That is the only thing I am waiting on. I have been on so many good teams, won so many games but I just want to reach that mountain top once before I am done.