JR Smith is officially no longer a member of the Cavaliers.
General Manager Koby Altman made the announcement from Cleveland Clinic Courts on Monday that Smith would be waived. The Cavs were diligently seeking a trade partner but ultimately waived the sharpshooting guard before his entire contract became guaranteed.
Many Cavs fans have become engaged in arguing and disputing Smith’s situation in Cleveland. Why wasn’t he traded years ago? Why’s he still here? Why did the Cavaliers waste his expiring contract as a trade chip?
Smith was much more than a trade piece to the city of Cleveland during his time with the Cavs. Upon being traded for in 2015, Smith was an enigmatic athlete and a genuine person for the Cavaliers. Rather unexpectedly, he was just what the city and team needed most.
However, when LeBron James left the Cavs last summer, it grew rapidly apparent that Smith was no longer apart of the future of the team.
The team began shopping Smith shortly after he was asked to leave the team in November. Smith was reported to be unhappy with his playing time and the situation with the Cavs. Altman viewed Smith’s contract as a lucrative trade asset, hoping that another team would sacrifice future draft picks in return for Smith’s expiring deal.
But Smith’s legacy in Cleveland is much deeper than being asked to leave the lottery team, while still cashing Dan Gilbert’s checks while golfing. His legacy is much more than being a “throw in” piece of a 2015 trade. His legacy is much more than infamously forgetting the score in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
Flashback to 2015. The Cavs were underachieving under rookie head coach David Blatt. Rumors of a locker room rift and internal conflict between franchise point guard Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters ensued.
Then-GM David Griffin made a trade that was somewhat unpopular at the time. The New York Knicks sent Iman Shumpert and Smith to Cleveland in a deal that sent Dion Waiters to a third team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks had to trade away the young, promising, defensive-minded Shumpert just to get rid of Smith and his baggage antics.
Smith was widely viewed as troubled, loud and problematic. He was known to cause drama and pick fights. James signed off on the deal, knowing his 2015 Cavs needed a spot shooter, promising the front office he would keep Smith on his best behavior.
Cleveland brought out the absolute best of Smith during his first two years with the Cavs.
Smith’s career completely turned around upon his arrival in Cleveland. Due to Shumpert’s injuries, Smith was granted the starting shooting guard role in his early days with the Cavs. He did not disappoint.
“I think this is the best situation for me, cause there’s nothing but basketball,” Smith said of Cleveland in 2015. “There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball, and basketball.”
In 2015 and 2016, JR was as locked in as ever and provided Cavalier fans unforgettable memories both on and off the floor.
Who could ever forget the 2015 NBA Playoffs and that spectacular Finals run? Decking Jae Crowder to the floor in that passionate, aggressive first-round series with the Boston Celtics. Later that postseason, Smith hit a fadeaway 40-foot buzzer-beater on Easter at Quicken Loans Arena before halftime in a series where he shined bright against the Chicago Bulls. The fans went wild and quickly fell in love with the tattooed guard’s shooting ability.
In 2016, it’s easy to remember Smith’s back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter that gave the Cavs new life in Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors. Later in that same historical game, Smith played a critical role, getting in the way of Andre Iguodala for just a split second for James to come in for that iconic game-saving block. Smith etched his name in history and helped the city of Cleveland hoist their first trophy in over 50 years.
“If JR is not there, I’m dunking it,” Iguodala told ESPN of “The Block” in 2016.
Off the court, promptly after Game 7 at his press conference, Smith broke down, explaining to reporters through his heartfelt tears that when people would speak badly of him, it hurts him because he knows it hurts his father just as much.
Just a few days later, Smith instantly became a fan favorite when he excitedly meandered off of the team’s plane at the I-X Center without his shirt on to celebrate Cleveland’s first title. Fans celebrated with the shirtless Smith that entire week at the championship parade and ironically signing PVC pipes, an inside joke of a prior antic of Smith’s, at a meet and greet at Forman Mills.
Smith gained two rings in that magical summer of 2016. He married Shirley Harris in 2016 in his home state of New Jersey on August 8, 2016.
Smith was on top of the world. He became an NBA Champion and became a husband within two months. In 2017, however, Smith had a new battle to overcome.
Smith’s new wife delivered their child, Dakota Smith, just five months into her pregnancy. Shirley and JR were unable to hold their premature newborn for the first month of her life.
With the help of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, his newborn daughter was given a chance at survival. Dakota was able to be taken home in May, five months after she was born.
Smith’s tenure in Cleveland was definitely a rollercoaster. From being cited for reckless driving in Bay Village to waving a bright red “Rally Together” towel, shirtless of course, during the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field, to hanging out with LeBron at Cedar Point, Smith embodied everything Cleveland.
Instead of remembering Smith as the disgruntled guard that tossed a bowl of soup onto assistant coach Damon Jones, choose to remember him as a Cavalier legend that played a crucial role in the greatest moment in franchise history, the 2016 championship.
Instead of merely thinking of him as a wasted trade asset, remember JR Smith as the Cleveland hero he is, standing shirtless on top of a parade float in front of 1.3 million fellow Clevelanders with his arms widespread.