UPDATED 1:34 p.m. ET: On Tuesday afternoon, a source informed Joe Vardon of The Athletic that J.R. Smith is no longer with the Cavs as they look to trade him. He'll work out on his own, away from the team, until he's dealt.
Here's the statement the Cavs released about Smith:
ESPN's Brian Windhorst explains how Smith's contract was grandfathered into the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, and why that makes it a bit of an asset for whichever team deals for him.
Smith is the second player to separate himself from his team as he works out his future. The other one is Carmelo Anthony.
See original story below.
LeBron James returns the Q Arena to face his former team, the Cavs, in a nationally televised affair on Wednesday that could turn into a blowout. In a sign of his importance to the franchise, and the absence of Kevin Love to injury, Cleveland sits at the bottom of the standings, with one fewer win than lowly Phoenix. Whether it's purposeful or not might be up to interpretation, but not to disgruntled wing J.R. Smith who reiterated his desire to be dealt and the team's pointed aim to finish in lottery contention during a sit-down with Jason Lloyd of The Athletic.
"I don’t think the goal is to win," he told Lloyd. "The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can. I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan."
Cleveland's implicit desire for better odds to land the top pick in the NBA Draft Lottery spurned Smith's stated desire to leave. Does he want to stay, Lloyd asks? "Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win," he said.
Coming into the season, with Ty Lue still installed as coach, the goal—according to management and the owner—was to compete for a spot in the playoffs, likely the eighth seed in a top-heavy conference. But with Love down and Lue collecting checks, hopefully on a beach somewhere drinking Mai Thais and listening to Sinatra, the losses piled high in the season's first month and team's goal shifted from the playoffs to the lottery. Point guard George Hill agrees with Smith's assessment. However, when asked by Lloyd when the Cavs changed course, Hill thinks they never really expected to compete in the first place.
"I think it recalibrated before Game 1 was even played," Hill said. "In the summer, it felt like politically you have to say we can still do these things because you want everyone to buy in to being here. Once everybody is here, I don’t know. The directions change."
Smith, for his part, brings up other squads that he's been on during his career who were still trying to get a win, despite how outclassed they might've been on the court.
"I’ve been on teams where we’ve won 18 games and the development stage was to try to win at any cost," Smith said. "It wasn’t just for my development or the next person. The goal was always to win."
Even if they do try on Wednesday in front of a national audience, it might not matter against a surging Lakers team that's won seven of their last 10 and found a much-needed defensive bulwark in Tyson Chandler, who signed after being bought out by Phoenix. About LeBron's return on Wednesday, George expressed the same sentiment as LeBron.
"If you boo him, you’re an asshole," Hill said. "He just means too much to this city, to this organization." For Smith, that sentiment likely applies to the team currently hoping to buy him out as they nosedive towards a future they hope includes Zion Williamson.