As a people, we have suffered from a lack of J.R. Smith in our lives over the last 12 months. Only one season after his catastrophic blunder ruined a vintage LeBron James performance (and perhaps any hope Cleveland had of beating Golden State), Smith returned to the Cavs for a month before leaving the team and staying away the entire season. Several months after its conclusion, Smith is expected to be cut by the end of the day on Monday.
What happened isn’t hard to figure out: Smith’s $14 million salary was far too large to move and Smith had zero interest in playing the role of veteran mentor for one of the worst teams in the league. When he did play, his disinterest was quite obvious, and he barely resembled an NBA player. Now that he’s free to play in a place he wants to, Smith should resemble the player he was in 2017: a fine defender on good nights and a capable shooter on most. He won’t make or break any team’s chances next year, but competent 3-and-D players are in high demand, and his championship experience has to count for something. Given how much money he made in Cleveland and his current state of affairs, it’s almost a certainty Smith will not receive more than the veteran minimum from any one team. Here are three teams that will likely show interest in Smith once he hits the open market.
Los Angeles Lakers
The most obvious, and most likely, of all the landing spots, Rob Pelinka will definitely be reaching out to LeBron’s old buddy to see if he wants to team up once more. The Lakers filled out their roster admirably after whiffing on another major free agent to pair with LeBron and Anthony Davis, but it can always use some work. Smith would slot in perfectly with the rest of this year’s Lakeshow as a shooter who knows where to be and when he needs to be there- a crucial aspect of playing with someone as good as LeBron.
Smith’s impact on a locker room can be extreme, but L.A. has assembled a high-character cast for LeBron’s second season in Cali. Things look okay as it is, but the team is still thin on depth. Adding in Smith would give them insurance in case Danny Green or Avery Bradley goes down, and keeping your superstar happy by adding one of his running mates from the old days is a classic strategy.
The Heat were capped out before they traded for Jimmy Butler. Now, with a true max player on their team, they’ll need to find some cheap talent to fill in the holes around him. It’s a win-win for Smith, who gets to move to Miami and play a minor role on a competing team. He’s had his clashes with coaches before, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a former player say anything bad about Erik Spoelstra. At the very least, that man knows his basketball and will maximize Smith’s talents.
Putting Butler, a maniacal competitor, on the same team as Smith may be asking for trouble. But Miami wants to win, and Smith should help them do that. The Eastern Conference is wide open, and if Smith wants to come play, he’d fit into their offense well.
Like just about every player who can consistently hit from deep, Smith would fit perfectly into the Rockets’ offense. Frankly, it may be best for Smith at this point in his career if his only responsibility on offense is to stand in the corner while James Harden/Russell Westbrook go to work. He won’t bring any defensive prowess to the table, but he should be good enough for a team that will probably be focused on scoring above all.
Admittedly, if you thought Butler and Smith was an explosive combination, just wait until Smith shares the locker room with Westbrook. Not to mention Smith’s spotty past with his coach in New York (and now in Houston), Mike D'Antoni. But the Rockets need wings who can make threes at a league-average rate. Smith is a wing who can make threes at a league-average rate. The intangible side of things may sink this before it starts, but Houston will at least look into it.