This just in: J.R. Smith and his Cavs teammates are thrilled to be reunited.
“We’re extremely happy and proud to say that we have agreed to terms to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a.k.a the champs, a.k.a my brothers,” Smith said on Uninterrupted, an online platform for athletes built by LeBron James’ media company.
On Friday, Smith and the Cavs agreed to a four-year, $57 million contract — with three years and $45 million of that guaranteed. The agreement ended an awkward negotiation between the two sides.
Smith made clear he wanted to stay in Cleveland. He in fact never left the area during camp, and often hung out with James and other Cavs teammates, which is uncommon for someone holding out for more money. But was looking for $15 million.
The Cavs’ top brass made clear Smith was wanted, and the team was nowhere close to being able to pay someone else to take Smith’s place because of the salary cap. But for weeks, Cleveland was sticking to its offer about $11 million.
All of that’s in the past now.
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) October 15, 2016
“It’s been a long road. I appreciate everybody sticking it out through this rough patch of time,” Smith said. “I know the holdout and everything has been long and tedious for everybody. It’s extremely huge for us. We’re happy to be a part of the Cleveland family, and just want to take it one day at a time.”
Talk about everything coming up roses for Smith: in that same Uninterrupted video, he announced that he and his wife would have another baby, which would make three children for the couple.
Lue, who may have played a role in bringing Smith back with a phone call he placed to him this week, called it “great news” to be getting the team’s starting shooting guard back.
Smith has started 122 of his 123 games over 1 ½ seasons with the Cavs and drained 335 3-pointers. He also scored 12 points — including eight during a critical stretch in the third quarter — in Cleveland’s Game 7 triumph over Golden State in the Finals.
But for the players and for Lue, Smith’s return seems to be about more than basketball.
James Tweeted that he is “so damn happy for my Lil bro!!” Tristan Thompson posted to Instagram a picture of him and Smith bumping chests in the air during a Cavs game with the caption “mood.”
So damn happy for my Lil bro!! Well deserved. Good things happens to good people. I can’t express how happy I am for you brother! Love https://t.co/cEGGwz3bdE
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2016
“You don’t replace a guy like Swish,” said James Jones, after the Cavs’ reserves and players who will be cut next week lost to the Chicago Bulls, 118-108. “The only person that can replace Swish is Swish. That’s why he’s a unique talent.”
“He’s one of us,” added Richard Jefferson, who made the trip to Chicago but didn’t play. “I think there’s so many guys that are a part of our success, not only on the field but off the field, and he’s just such a good teammate. He worked really hard, and we all won a championship together. So whenever he gets back, we look forward to having him.”
Forgive Jefferson for the “field” reference. While he spoke he was watching the 8th inning of the Indians’ 2-0 win over Toronto in Game 1 of the ALCS in the locker room. There’s a good chance Jefferson, James, Smith, and others might take in Game 2.
On Sunday, it’s back to practice for Smith and the Cavs. Lue wouldn’t commit to starting Smith in the preseason finale Tuesday night in Columbus against Washington, but said it was his plan to start Smith in the season opener Oct. 25 against New York.
From the outside, it never seemed like Smith would play elsewhere. From the myriad pictures on social media of Smith hanging out with Cavs teammates, to dearth of offers from other teams, to Cleveland’s apparent desire to bring him back, the threat of Smith actually leaving as a free agent hadn’t materialized.
That is, until this week, when, according to Smith’s camp, the 76ers expressed real interest and discussed a sizable sum of money this week, which may have been enough to get the Cavs off their original sticking point of $11 million annually.
Smith is something of an enigma. A nearly perfect fit in Cleveland, he’d racked up $1 million in fines from the NBA and created for himself a bad reputation from his behavior both on and off the court.
His teammates in Cleveland don’t see that side. And neither does Lue.
“Just seeing how he’s matured over the years, now he’s gotten older, gotten married, has his kids,” said Lue, who has been close with Smith for years, dating back to when their careers overlapped as NBA players from 2005-09. “For me, the growth has been great.”
And no matter how it looked from the outside, or how much confidence Lue, or James, or the front office expressed that Smith would be back, his teammates were a little worried they’d eventually lose him.
“He was a free agent, so you never know what can happen,” Jefferson said. “I have a feeling the Miami fans didn’t think D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) would be suiting up for Chicago, so you never know.”
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