J.R. Smith doesn’t regret how time with Cavs ended

Smith remains in limbo, awaiting trade or release but appreciates love from fans

Daryl Ruiter
July 07, 2019 - 8:21 pm

Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – J.R. Smith is still living in exile, but he has no regrets.

Smith’s shirtless walk off the plane and parade ride made him forever a Cleveland sports legend after helping the Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA championship, ending a 52-year title drought for the city.

Where he plays basketball next is still to be determined.

“I don’t [know]. I wish I did,” Smith said prior to the MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game at Progressive Field. “I don’t have my rights. I’m not the general manager or the owner, so I don’t really have a choice in those decisions. I’ll leave it where it’s at. I’ll be home with my family and when they call me, they call me.”

Smith spent most of the 2018-19 NBA season at home after receiving permission from the Cavs to leave the team in November after the front office went into a full-blown youth movement and rebuild mode.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work out for the duration of the season, but it worked out the way it was supposed to,” Smith said.

Smith, a member of team Cleveland in the ‘Cleveland against The World’ format, received a loud ovation when he was introduced. He raised his right arm into the air and saluted the crowd as he walked to the left field line.

While his days with the Cavs have come to an unceremonious end, Cleveland fans still hold a special place in his heart.

“I think that’s one of the more stress relievers is being able to feel wanted, even if it’s not by the organization, it’s the city,” Smith said in the bowels of his former home arena, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “That’s bigger to me than anything. The people who spent their hard-earned money to come cheer for you, root for you.”

As he came to the plate for his first at-bat, Smith gave the fans what they wanted – him shirtless. He took his jersey off, ripped a base hit and later scored, flipping and flopping behind home plate as teammates raced over to celebrate with him.

“I love to see the smiles, I love the appreciation, the hard work,” Smith said. “People don’t realize how much [New] Jersey and Cleveland are so similar; we work off our own sweat. It’s always been our hard work gets us to where we’re at. I think that’s the biggest thing as far as connection between myself and Cleveland. We’ve all worked to get where we’re at now and we’re here and we did it together.”

The 16-year NBA veteran recently agreed to bump back the date for his contract to become fully guaranteed to give general manager Koby Altman more time to trade him this offseason. Cleveland.com reported that the guaranteed money from the $15.7 million salary for 2019-20 increased from $3.9 million to $4.4 million and extends to July 15 but can be pushed to Aug. 1 if needed.

Until then, he remains in limbo awaiting a trade from the Cavs – somewhere, anywhere.

“Technically my whole career’s been in limbo, so this is easy for me,” Smith said.

“It’s not difficult, honestly. During the season I could have gotten traded yesterday, today or tomorrow. That’s being in limbo just as much as not playing. So I’m not really worried about it, honestly. I get paid to stay in shape. It’s pretty fun.”

While Smith has no idea where he’ll get to lace them up next, one thing he is sure of is that he’s not retiring.

“I don’t think that’s a possibility at this point,” Smith said. “I know I will [play again]. Maybe years down the line I won’t. As of right now that’s the furthest thing [from my mind].”

Over the last eight months Smith has been spending his time with his wife and four children, in addition to working out to stay in basketball shape while he waits for his phone to ring.

“Basketball is something I love to do, I’m not going to let nobody take my passion for it,” Smith said. “That’s why I still work out and train and play games with other guys, regardless if it’s in the NBA or not, I’m always going to play.

“I’m ready to play whenever, it’s just a matter of when that call comes.”

While Smith misses the game, he’s enjoyed the time off and the opportunity it gave him to be with his family.

“I live a good life,” Smith said. “There’s no reason for me to be stressed or be dissatisfied. I’ve got four amazing kids. I went through one of the toughest parts of my life with my [premature] daughter. This is easy. This is a cakewalk. Just stay in shape and stay ready to play basketball when I’m called. If I’m not called, I still get to be home with my family.”

One call he won’t make is to LeBron James.

“I ain’t got to do that, my resume speaks for itself,” Smith said.

James and the Lakers are contenders out west after acquiring Antony Davis from New Orleans but that is just one of a multitude of wild moves this offseason that has seen the Warriors grip on their dynasty slip away following an NBA Finals loss to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard is now a Clipper, teaming up with Paul George after the team sent a multitude of future first-round draft picks to Oklahoma City.

“It’s weird; it’s different,” Smith said.

“It’s fun. It makes it more interesting. It’s not just a landslide of who you think is going to be in The Finals every year. It gives the speculation back to the game as opposed to thinking, ‘These guys are going to win.’ It makes it more alive.”

Smith can’t wait to join the fun with his next move, wherever it is and whenever it comes.