While frustrations mounted and disgruntled attitudes were expressed toward the organization, Smith called it quits on Cleveland. In simplest of terms, Smith left the Cavaliers to pursue a potential trade to a contender.
The veteran helped the Cavaliers achieve their first NBA championship in 2016, especially in Game Seven of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Despite Smith’s integral role in the franchise’s title run, his blunder during the 2018 Finals likely cost the Cavaliers the game; the team would get swept 4-0 before the roster started to crumble the following season.
In Smith’s defense, he had every right to request a trade. His contract prevented a championship contender from taking the risk in acquiring him.
Smith’s Contract Situation
Next season, Smith will enter the final year on his 4-year/$57 million contract. Last season, after Smith left the Cavaliers, teams balked at the idea of taking on his contract. Smith received $14.70 million from Cleveland, only appearing in 11 games.
According to Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, Smith’s contract presents unique opportunities for other organizations to contact the Cavaliers. While Smith will be owed $15.70 million for the 2019-2020 season, only $3.80 million is guaranteed.
“Even though the CBA has changed, Smith’s contract was grandfathered in, which allows the Cavaliers to take back a higher-priced salary, more than $15 million while the team is only on the hook for $3.80 million,” Fedor reported. “Other deals signed after 2016 would only work for the guaranteed amount on the contract when it comes to matching salaries- not nearly as appealing in trades. Smith’s contract is the only one of its kind.”
In other words, the team who would trade for Smith would only be committed to paying him $3.80 million, instead of the $15.70 million. The receiving team can also stretch the $3.80 million across three years, per RealGM.
Interest across the League
Last season, there was virtually no interest in Smith around the league. In addition, the Cavaliers refused to buyout his contract with hopes they could acquire an asset or two instead. This didn’t pan out, as Smith sat for the majority of the season.
The Cavaliers front office issued a statement on Smith’s update last week.
“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 Friday.
“We’re 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 on Thursday 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.”
Cleveland will obviously have to wait until the playoffs are completed, but it appears moving Smith for the 2019-2020 season remains as a top priority for the front office, aside from the NBA Draft and scouting.
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