James was referring to the Cavs’ 2015 contract stalemate with Tristan Thompson, one that was resolved when the team gave the forward a five-year, $82 million deal shortly before the regular season began. Smith, acquired from the Knicks along with Iman Shumpert during the 2014-15 season, grew into both a fan favorite and a prized teammate for James, averaging 34.8 minutes in 21 playoff games this spring en route to a title.
Another thing James, Smith and Thompson have in common is that they share the same agent, but Smith isn’t looking for what the other two are getting. However, having opted out of a contract that would have paid him $5 million this season, and seeing the monstrous deals handed out by NBA teams this offseason, he could be looking for more than double that much.
In addition to the annual amount, the number of years on a new contract might be a sticking point in negotiations, with the Cavs likely leery of committing to the mercurial, 31-year-old Smith longer than they absolutely have to. Another issue could stem from the fact that the team is already over the salary cap, meaning that for every dollar it pays Smith, it would have to pay more than that in luxury-tax fees.
However, James is well aware that, even though Cleveland made him the highest-paid player in the league in August, the NBA’s salary restrictions mean that the Cavs are still getting a massive bargain with his three-year, $100 million contract. If the league had no salary cap, he may be worth more than double that much on the open market, and James made plain his irritation at the Cavs letting money get in the way of keeping a championship nucleus together.
“Negotiations are always two sides but J.R. did his part,” James said Friday (via Cleveland.com). “He showed up every day. Worked his a– off every day. Became a two-way player, a model citizen in Cleveland and he’s a fan favorite, obviously we all know that. All of the sudden now he’s a season ticket holder at the Indians games.
“We just miss him. We miss having him around. He’s a big piece of our team and they just need to get it done.”
James added, “I hate coming into another season — two years in a row — with one of my big guns not here.”
As if to underline his close relationship with Smith, James went with him and several Cavs teammates to a Kanye West concert Saturday, one that took place in their NBA facility, Quicken Loans Arena. Here is video of James’s comments (warning: profanity).