The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be emerging from wild and well-chronicled struggles in the aftermath of a (very) active trade deadline. While the combination of LeBron James and the team’s new acquisitions will garner most of the attention, internal improvement from Cleveland’s veteran role players would go a long toward stabilizing things and that brings J.R. Smith into the picture.
Smith, operating in year two of a four-year, $57 million contract that is partially guaranteed in the final season, struggled mightily outset of the season and, while he was far from alone in that, it appears that the marksman’s confidence was clearly shaken. In speaking with Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Smith revealed that, as part of those issues, he even considered prompting head coach Tyronn Lue to remove him from the lineup.
“There were times when I wanted to go to [Lue] and be like, ’Listen, man, I’m not playing well. Why not take me out?’ Fortunately, I didn’t and just stuck with it. I’ve known T-Lue since my rookie year. Our relationship is based on communication — how he communicates with me, how I communicate with him. He’s been really consistent at that.”
Smith is shooting 51.5 percent from three-point range in the first five games of February and it appears evident that his offensive mojo is returning. It is both fair and important to point out that Smith, even at his peak, is likely overpaid on his current deal and, of course, that comes as a result of the massive leverage he had before signing it. Still, it is undeniable that the Cavs are a much better team when he has it going on offense and, as with most players, defensive intensity from Smith often coincides with swagger on the other end.
Lue will have some rotation decisions to make in the near future and, at some point, it may be necessary to scale back on minutes for Smith. If the veteran performs at his recent level, though, he will force Lue’s hand in the best possible way.