Whether it's his ability to shoot the three, his new-found defense, or the fact that he may still be shirtless, Cleveland Cavaliers and current restricted free agent guard J.R. Smith is looking for a big payday this off-season. In fact, the sharpshooter is looking for a new deal that will give him $15 million per year, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler.
As the team's starting shooting guard ever since he arrived in Cleveland during the 2015-16 season, Smith has been a tremendous asset on both ends of the floor as he showed during the Cavaliers championship run this past year. While locking down the likes of Golden State Warriors guard and three-point shooter Klay Thompson, among others, the 30-year-old was relied upon to not just put points on the board, but keep them from being scored by the opposition.
In 21 games (all starts), Smith averaged 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals in 34.8 minutes per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc. Since joining the wine and gold, the veteran has averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.2 steals in 31.1 minutes per game in 123 regular season games (122 starts) while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point land.
With no cap space remaining, if the Cavs let Smith walk away and go to another team, they would not be able to sign another player close to his caliber. The Cavs can offer a free agent their tax-payer exception or the veteran's minimum, both of which don't even come close to $15 million per year. With how much many free agents cashed in on this off-season, $15 million isn't out of the ordinary for a player like Smith—it's less per year than the contract signed by Timofey Mozgov with the Los Angeles Lakers. Also, due to the fact that he knows the Cavs need him (and want him) to return, Smith has the upper hand when it comes to leverage. (The fact that he is such good friends with LeBron James and signed with Klutch Sports and Rich Paul—the same agent as James and Tristan Thompson—can only serve to help his cause.)
During an appearance on ESPN's His and Hers, Smith admitted that this entire process has begun to make him somewhat nervous, per Fear The Sword's Carter Rodriguez.
"I've thought about that situation (leaving Cleveland), and I've thought about it the other way, too, going back and winning again. Both are juggled in the air and I'm kind of nervous about that choice when it gets presented to me."
Obviously, I'm not owner Dan Gilbert and it's not my money, but I would give Smith a blank check and give him the money that he wants in order to bring the shooting guard back to the Cavs for 2016-17 and beyond. As the team's fourth scoring option in the starting lineup, he flourished in that role. Not only can he light up the scoreboard from deep, but he also opens the floor for James, Kyrie Irving, and company to go inside as well. He means more to this team than many give him credit for, and in this new NBA landscape, $15 million isn't as unreasonable as it may initially seem.