Storyline: JR Smith Trade?

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For months, the Cavs felt their top trade piece this summer was Smith’s contract because it’s one of the few left in the NBA that can be traded for its total value ($15.7 million) but only count as a fraction of that against the salary cap. Smith agreed to move the date for which his contract becomes fully guaranteed from June 30 to Aug. 1, in exchange for the guaranteed portion of his deal to increase from $3.9 million to $4.4 million, league sources told The Athletic.

Showtime Forun: “Right now, Cleveland is trying to trade JR Smith and whichever teams that trades for him will waive him. When he’s waived, it is my belief he’ll end up with the Lakers.” @Chris Haynes | @YahooSportsNBA

Smith has a partially guaranteed contract that is appealing to teams looking to shed salary. The Cavs continue to field calls from those interested, including the Miami Heat, sources said. During the season, Cavs executive Brock Aller compiled a lengthy list of teams that could be a fit for Smith’s contract and there are upwards of 15. The acquiring team would then cut Smith before the end of this month, putting them on the hook for just $3.8 million of the $15.6 million he is owed. Smith’s contract represented a team’s final shot to create cap room heading into July free agency.

“We have a trade chip in JR Smith, and his contract, where we can take on some money that other teams are trying to get some cap relief from,” general manager Koby Altman said recently. “We are actually the only team in the NBA that can provide guaranteed cap relief until July 1. We can guarantee that right now and we actually had a phone call yesterday on that trade chip, so, we’re going to keep on being aggressive adding those assets because we do eventually want to consolidate and be really good at some point.”

If Smith gets waived by June 30, a team could either leave the $3.8 million on its cap for the 2019-20 season or stretch it, spreading the guaranteed money across three years at a rate of $1.29 million. Financial flexibility can’t be easily attained prior to July 1. The Cavs provide that path. In most cases, the Cavs are seeking a first-round pick. If the selection is a late first, similar to the one they received from Houston, they would ask for a young player on a rookie deal or a second draft pick in the future. It’s all about adding assets (picks and players) for this lengthy rebuild.

Even after agreeing to their fourth trade this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed busy on deadline eve, looking to find a new home for exiled swingman JR Smith, and the front office will continue with that goal up until 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon, league sources told cleveland.com. Smith, who hasn’t played organized basketball since Nov. 19, 2018 and was recently spotted at Madison Square Garden as a fan, doesn’t have nearly as much value as some of the other pieces the Cavs have moved recently. Finding a trade partner is “easier said than done,” according to one source.

The team will attempt to trade him and he will work out on his own — away from practice — until a trade occurs. He will no longer play or attend the Cavs’ games, which means he won’t be there for LeBron James’ return with the Lakers on Wednesday. A source close to Smith said the split was “amicable,” and the Cavs are simply “going in a different direction” from where Smith wanted to go. In a statement confirming Smith’s status, the Cavs said the organization “wishes J.R. and his family well and appreciates and thanks him for his contributions in the community, to the team and his role in the 2016 NBA championship.”

Gilbert said he would let Altman handle it, just as Gilbert wants Altman to be the one to work out the contract negotiations with acting coach Larry Drew. “First of all, we appreciate JR and everything he has done for the franchise,” Gilbert said of Smith. “You all remember Game 7 in the second half when we were down I think nine in the second half and it was his eight, nine, 10 points or something like that that really got us back into Game 7 and then we won the championship. Will be forever grateful. That’s what I think of when I think of JR.”

On Tuesday, ESPN reported Smith considered taking a leave because he was informed he’d no longer be playing in the wake of Lue’s firing Sunday. Both Smith and several members of the Cavs’ organization denied that report, insisting instead that it was Altman who made the offer to leave to Smith. “To come from where I came from, from pretty much nothing to Cleveland and the way the city embraced me, the fans embraced me, the relationship I have with them, I can’t do that to them,” Smith said.

But a few days ago, after seeing some questionable body language from Smith, Altman sat down with the mercurial shooting guard and asked him if he wanted to stay with the team or take a leave of absence. Smith opted to stay. “It’s a tough situation as a veteran and I totally understand that,” Drew said. “I’m very glad he decided to stick around. I had no knowledge about what his options were, but yes, I’m very happy that he did make that decision to stay with the team.”

Smith said after shootaround Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts that it’s hard for him to put on a Cavs jersey every day, but he will help young players who seek him out even as he’s been dropped from the rotation. “They asked me if I wanted to be around the team and if I didn’t I could leave and go home and do whatever,” Smith said. “I can’t do that to these fans, I can’t do it to the city. To come from where I came from, from pretty much nothing to Cleveland and the way the city embraced me, the fans embraced me, the relationship I have with them, I can’t do that to them. It’s not about me, it’s not about who wants me here and who doesn’t want me here, for me it’s all about the fans.”

Joe Vardon, then of Cleveland.com, reported that Smith’s camp was told this summer he likely would not play this season. But Smith is still upset with what he perceives as a lack of communication, perhaps wanting to hear it directly from General Manager Koby Altman. “I don’t mind taking a back seat or sitting down or if you don’t want me to play, I don’t mind that. But at least communicate that to me,” he said. “To feel like you’re going to play one day, and then you just don’t play, coming from four Finals appearances, starting, winning a championship, and doing all these things. Sacrificing your body and injury and fighting through all of that to be, you can’t even look me in my face and tell me, that’s disrespectful to me.”

JR Smith wants out

Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard JR Smith said he is hoping for a trade, but sources tell cleveland.com he hasn’t officially made that request to management yet. Smith entered this season in a precarious spot, with general manager Koby Altman telling Smith and his camp before training camp that playing time would be sporadic. Smith played four total minutes in the first three games before head coach Tyronn Lue — fired Sunday morning — put him back in the rotation for the fourth and fifth games of the season.

Sources told cleveland.com that after sensing poor body language from Smith and worrying about how his attitude could impact the team, Altman sat down with Smith a few days ago and asked the 33-year-old guard whether he wanted to stay around the team while being glued to the bench. If Smith wasn’t going to be a leader, the needed veteran the youngsters benefit from being around and was instead going to sulk, it would be better for him to go home. Smith opted to stay.

Among the players that make the most sense for matching salary with Butler is J.R. Smith, who is set to make $14.7 million this year with his 2019-20 contract only partially guaranteed. However, Smith isn’t too keen on the idea of going to Minnesota, as he recently told the group of guys with whom he was playing NBA 2K19 as they were getting ready for a game. “They trying to do a trade for Jimmy Butler? I ain’t going to Minnesota,” Smith says. “They can cancel my ticket for that. They can cancel Christmas for that. I ain’t going to no damn Minnesota. They better make it a three-way trade or something.”

Joe Vardon: “They’ve told Kevin Love that they don’t plan to trade him and there’s been discussions with JR Smith and even Kyle Korver, who virtually everyone has circled as a trade candidate, getting them ready to come back to camp. They certainly could move one or more of those guys (I certainly don’t see a move for Kevin right now), and yeah, it really seems like this is what has been communicated to all the players involved, that they’re gonna try this out.”

The Cavaliers continue to engage Sacramento on George Hill, sources told Yahoo Sports, and the Kings have quietly been looking for a third team to involve. The Cavs — who have little interest in taking on the $19 million Hill is owed next season — have pushed for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to be part of the package, a source said, which the Kings have no interest in. Cleveland has shown a willingness to part with its own first-round pick in other deals, but thus far trading the coveted unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick has not been seriously considered.

Now in their fourth season since James returned, is mental fatigue taking a toll on the Cavs? Sam Amick: It’s a whole lot more complicated than the fatigue factor, and it has everything to do with the layers of dysfunction that the Cavs are battling. Cavs general manager Koby Altman is trying hard to shed the contracts of Tristan Thompson (two years, $36 million remaining) and J.R. Smith ($14.7 million next season, team option worth $15.6 million in 2019-20 with $3.8 million guaranteed), two players who were re-signed in large part because of LeBron’s omnipresent influence. They’re all represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who built the agency with a huge assist from James. As it pertains to the Cavs’ interest in the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, a person with knowledge of that situation said Cleveland continues to offer only its own first-round pick and this kind of unwanted money in those stalled negotiations. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The Cavs contacted Sacramento about a possible trade for guard George Hill, and the New York Times reported that Cleveland has also engaged the Los Angeles Clippers about DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams. The Times said the Cavs have floated J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Iman Shumpert in possible trades — all of them have been here for each of Cleveland’s last three Finals runs and have seen their roles diminish this season for one reason or another. The Cavs are 1-4 in their last five games and privately their marquee players have suggested the team needs a roster upgrade or two. “I like our group,”Tyronn Lue reiterated. “Until we figure out rotations and getting guys healthy and what we have … I like what we have.”
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