Cavaliers Have Smith Ready To Go From Start

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With as crazy of an offseason as the NBA had this summer, it’s only appropriate that the final big move made reunited two best friends who made magic happen in Miami together.

For the first time since 2014, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are joining forces as a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time, it’s at a later stage in their careers with a different franchise in a different city.

The news isn’t surprising for the wine and gold, a team that has bolstered its roster with talent behind first-year general manager Koby Altman. But as much as the fresh additions will help the Cavaliers in their pursuit of a second championship, so will the presence of J.R. Smith.

Due to ongoing contract negotiations at this point last season, Smith was not with the team for the start of training camp. This time around it’s a different story.

“I was here, I just wasn’t here,” Smith said at media day on Monday. “I was around the team. I was kickin’ it with the guys and stuff like that. I just wasn’t able to do this (media day), which I really don’t like to do anyway.”

Talking to reporters about happenings within the locker room and on the court has never been Smith’s favorite thing to partake in, but he admitted being away from the practice floor took its toll on him.

“It was tough,” Smith said. “Because when you’re not there from day one of training camp to the first game—when I came in we played one preseason game at Ohio State then we got right to the season.

“It was extremely tough. My timing and stuff was off, but now that I get to have a vocal impact as well as just being there for the guys, I think it’ll be much better.”

Tristan Thompson can relate to the same situation. One year before Smith, he had a similar predicament while Cleveland and his agent attempted to reach terms on an agreement.

Now that both he and his teammate have earned those deals, there won’t be any holdup, which makes things much smoother to transition into the start of the season.

“He looks good,” Thompson said. “He’s defending at a high level, making threes like he always does. It’s great to have Swish back. This time last year, Swish was at all of the Indians and Browns games, so I’m glad he’s at practice this year.”

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue shares the same sentiments. This is the first time in his two-and-a-half year tenure that Cleveland hasn’t had a contract holdout to begin training camp.

“It’s just part of the NBA,” Lue said. “It’s a business. We understand that. It happens. You don’t like for it to happen, but it happens. The most important thing is everybody’s here now.

“It’s a big difference,” Lue said of Smith being there from the jump. “He’s been our starting two guard for the last two years. Been a very important part of what we do.”

Most see Smith as the super confident shooter who can’t be cooled down when he gets hot, but Lue believes the crucial part of his game comes on the defensive end. In the playoffs, he drew matchups with All-Star wings DeMar DeRozan and Paul George and did his part to limit them.

Here’s the question on many people’s minds: Does Smith remain in the starting lineup for the third straight year or will he take a sixth man role with Wade and the others’ arrivals?

“As long as we win, I don’t care honestly,” Smith said. “If anything, it prolongs my career. I don’t got to do as much. I ain’t got to chase that many defenders around, so instead of me playing 18 years I can get to 20, 21 years.

“I don’t think it’ll affect my situation. I’mma go out and ball, guard the best, [be a] perimeter defender and stretch the floor, so if he’s in and I’m not, we’ll figure it out.”

Smith isn’t exactly sure how the situation will shake out, but knows how much Cleveland benefits as a whole. There will be no hard feelings about any of it.

“If anything, it makes us stronger,” Smith said. “Whether I come off the bench or he comes off the bench, however it works. I don’t really focus on it, honestly. This is my 14th year coming up and I’ve had a lot of BS in my past, so I don’t plan to bring that to the Cavs.

“At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. It matters who’s in there in the crunch. I’m not going to really focus on if I’m starting or if I’m not. I’m still going to be able to play. If coach needs me to start, I’ll start. If he needs me to come off the bench, I’ll come off the bench.

“I’m not going to sit here and get into a blank measuring contest with Dwyane Wade. I’m not going to win that, so I’m not going to do that. I’m going to continue to work hard with my team. However they choose to do it, that’s what it’s going to be.”

The depth of this Cavaliers team is going to make it easier on a lot of players to get the proper amount of rest and take care of their bodies throughout a rigorous 82-game season. In fact, Smith thinks the roster might be overloaded with talent to take off some pressure.

“It does that tremendously,” Smith said. “It almost does it a little too much, so guys got to stay ready. Obviously got to keep it professional and do what we do. Standing on the side, guys tend to get stiff or whatever, but we just got to stay loose and be ready when our name is called.”

Like his teammates, Smith has all the faith in the world in Lue to manage his squad. He’ll have some experimenting to do with versatile rotations and distributing minutes among those guys.

Regardless of that, it’s hard to complain about lineups when you have superstar-caliber talent.

“Then again, we’ve got Bron on our side too,” Smith said. “And Kev, so I’m pretty confident with that group.”

Adding Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Wade to that mix, there’s no reason not to be.