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His contract still counts toward the salary cap, but other than that, J.R. Smith is a member of the Cavaliers in name only.
That’s why Cavs general manager Koby Altman is likely overjoyed he has already received some trade calls about Smith, according to league sources.
Altman and the Cavs sent Smith home in November, and while the Cavs couldn’t trade Smith in February, interest is a little higher now. Altman said at his season-ending press conference Smith is indeed a trade asset and indicated he’s already received at least one call.
That makes sense. Smith’s contract comes off the books at the end of next season. And only about $4 million of it is guaranteed.
In the NBA, Smith’s contract has become the equivalent of taking five bucks and flushing it down the toilet. It’s now only a small waste of money.
One opposing general manager told AmicoHoops his team could have an interest in Smith’s contract but has yet to speak to Altman about a deal.
“We will wait a little closer to the draft to call,” the GM said. “We need to see how a few things shake out from our end first. I don’t want to say much more than that. … I’m sure other teams could have a use for that contract as well.”
Smith is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who turns 34 before the start of next season. He averaged 6.7 points on just 34 percent shooting in 11 games this season. He hasn’t been a reliable player since 2016 and has been more of headache lately than an actual contributor.
So why would teams be calling the Cavs about Smith?
Because other teams have salaries they’d like to dump as well. For the Cavs, yes, a Smith trade would mean taking salary back. But guess what else it would mean? It would mean another first-round pick. At least, that’s one theory. Without that, there would be little reason for the Cavs to trade Smith. They could just waive him and eat the $4 million themselves.
Altman made such a deal at the trade deadline, taking back the contracts of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss from the Houston Rockets — who also sent their first-rounder (No. 26). As an added bonus, the Cavs got to audition Knight and Chriss and determine if they could be part of the Cavs’ future.
Similar deals are out there now.
The Boston Celtics have three first-rounders, including a lottery pick. The San Antonio Spurs have two. Neither team intends to bring in more than one rookie next season. Remember, first-round picks receive guaranteed money. The last thing a contending playoff team wants is to tie up roster spots with a bunch of developing young guys.
But the Cavs are rebuilding. They are just fine with such an arrangement. The more young players to develop, the better.
Could Smith end up being the asset that brings such a return? Altman and the Cavs sure seem to think so, and based on early accounts, they just might be right.