The 2016 NBA free agency period saw a plethora of players get paid. Some were max level players while others were considered mid-level niche types, but the outcome in most cases was the same – lucrative paydays were handed out in record numbers.
With training camps set to open later this month, most of the free agency money available has dried up. While there are still teams with cap space to make a decent splash, either the franchise is content with their roster heading into training camp or uninspired by the remaining talent pool that’s still available.
One player surprisingly still available is unrestricted free agent guard J.R. Smith. The veteran is coming off a season in which he was a key contributor on a title-winning Cleveland Cavaliers team. Smith averaged 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 40 percent shooting from three-point range in 77 appearances (all starts) last season. Smith also upped his shooting from long range during the Cavs’ title run, connecting on 43 percent of his attempts.
On paper, it may surprise many that Smith is still available for hire and receiving little to no interest from teams around the league as training camps are set to open. According to ESPN writer Brian Windhorst, Smith re-signing in Cleveland is an inevitable event and isn’t about if, but when the deal ultimately goes down.
“I feel like he will sign before the regular season – I’m not sure about training camp,” Windhorst said on Washington Post NBA writer Tim Bontemps’ recent podcast. “His agents don’t have a problem holding people out.
“The Cavs want him back, he wants to go back to the Cavs. There’s nobody bidding for him and therefore, the Cavs don’t feel like they have to increase whatever offer they’ve made, and J.R. has sat and watched a whole bunch of guys who he thinks he’s equal to or better than get paid huge money this year. I don’t know if the holdup is total years, I don’t know if the holdup is total compensation.”
According to a separate ESPN report, Smith is reportedly seeking a contract in the $13 million to $14 million range during the first year of the deal. The Cavaliers currently have roughly $115 million in guaranteed salaries on the books this season and re-signing Smith to an eight figure payday will drive the club deeper into luxury tax territory.
Last season, Cleveland paid out $54 million in luxury tax fees – over $30 million more than the next-worst tax offender. Cleveland’s luxury tax bill is expected to decline by $20 million next season, even after factoring in Smith’s new contract due to significant increase in the league’s salary cap. The current luxury tax threshold is $113.3 million.
Teams aren’t beating down Smith’s door and the Cavs will be motivated, eventually, to keep the gang together in their pursuit of a repeat title chase. So the prospect of Smith playing anywhere but in Cleveland in 2016-17 seems to be slim to none. Also keep in mind Smith’s agent, Rich Paul, is notorious for being a hardline negotiator – just reference teammate Tristan Thompson’s extended free agency process last year.
Finally, some good news for the New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans organization has had more than its share of on- and off-the-court drama to navigate over the past few seasons. Heading into training camp, it was recently announced that former All-Star guard Jrue Holiday will be out indefinitely due to his wife’s impending surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.
Trying to overcome the injury bug has seemingly become an annual pastime in New Orleans. Considering that not one member of the Pelicans’ roster last season suited up for at least 65 games, Holiday’s absence is just the latest in a long line of tough blows the franchise has had to absorb.
However, there has been a bit of good news for the club this week.
All-Star forward Anthony Davis has been medically cleared to resume basketball activities, and even participated in his first scrimmage earlier this week, according to the team’s official website.
Davis underwent surgery on his left knee, a procedure that included an injection of his own bone marrow, back in March. The knee injury limited Davis to just 61 games last season and ended his campaign early.
Davis entered the season with preseason MVP hype, but the Pelicans faltered to a 30-52 mark and missed the playoffs. Davis averaged 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in what most would consider a “down” year for the emerging big man. After being named to the All-NBA first team in 2015, Davis missed out on being selected to any of the three All-NBA units in 2016.
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