INDEPENDENCE (92.3 THE FAN) – Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith returned to Cleveland Clinic Courts Sunday after agreeing to a reported four-year, $57 million deal with the team.
Smith did not practice with the team on October 16 with his physical on the docket, but is expected to return to action on Monday and play in the team’s final pre-season game Tuesday in Columbus.
The 31-year old spent his time training nearby Cleveland at Garfield Heights high school, and says he and his newly pregnant wife are finalizing a home between Cleveland and Akron.
The deal now puts the Cavalier core – Smith, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and head coach Tyronn Lue – under contract for at least the next two seasons, many of which with options for the following years.
As contract negotiations churned on, reports began to spill in that speculated Smith could move on from Cleveland, namely to either Philadelphia or Boston. Smith seeming to dismiss that it was ever the case.
“I knew it would take care of itself. I had a great team behind me, as far as my agent’s side. I knew the Cavs wanted me. They knew I wanted to be here,” he said. “It’s a stressful process, because it is what it is, holding out, whatever people may call it, not being with the guys. My most important thing, it’s hard because it’s something you love and you try not to let money and whatever else get involved with it, Fortunately, I had a great team to deal with it.”
Smith returns to the team without a lot to pick up, as Lue says the team has not added a great deal of new wrinkles to how they played with Smith a year ago. The main goal of the next nine days prior to the team’s regular season opener will be getting the shooting guard in shape for the long run.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Lue said. “Offensively we’re doing a lot of the same things and defensively we’re doing the same things. He pretty much knows everything that’s going on. And we really haven’t added to our half-court package, we’ve really been running everything out of our secondary and transition package.
“Well we’ve got to ease him in for sure. You can only work out all you want, but playing in the games and training camp is different than working out on your own. Just want to see where he is at shape-wise, as far as body-wise.”
When the team does get back to action on October 25th, Smith says they should be able to pick up where they left off.
“I think we have an unbelievable opportunity to repeat. We have a great nucleus of guys once again, we’re starting 0-0, just like everybody else,” he said. “We’re so far from there, we have to continue to get better every day and not focus on the championship. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We really have to take it game by game. The only way to secure home court throughout the playoffs and all of that is to win the majority of your games. You can’t sleep on anybody. Everybody has gotten a lot better. Even a team like Philly that’s been a quote-unquote ‘bad team’ in our league for so long, they’re young guys and they’re good now and understanding how to play. And obviously, Golden State is Golden State. We have to focus on ourselves and get better every day.”
Despite being away from the team during training, Smith has been notacibly present during the two Cleveland Indians playoff games that the team has attended.
Smith was said to have been a better baseball player during his youth than basketball, according to Smith’s father. J.R. lauded the Tribe’s efforts after practice on Sunday, and spoke to his time playing America’s Pastime as a kid.
“Baseball has always been there, I’ve learned so much from that game,” he said. “I mean just the hand-eye coordination, everything. A lot of the skills I use here is because of baseball. I’m a huge baseball fan. Originally, I can’t lie, I’m a huge Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m bracing the home team.”
Smith also singled out relief pitcher Andrew Miller as a standout, as well as the player who has caught his eye the most, Carlos Santana.
“Carlos, you gotta love Carlos,” Smith added. “He’s, the way he plays, obviously a switch hitter, and he plays the field. He can pretty much do it all. And it’s surprising to be so tiny, he’s got so much power and generation behind that bat. He gets it done.”