After the Cavs won the 2016 NBA Finals it had become clear that JR Smith had been a key part of the team’s success. That regular season he averaged 12.4 points a game whilst shooting 40% from the 3 point line. He was a key role player that gave floor spacing for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James to make plays for themselves and the team.
He also played good defense especially in the Playoffs and Finals against some of the best backcourt players in the league. It was clear that the Cavs needed to keep him long-term if they were to win a title again, so they signed him to a 4-year deal worth nearly $60 million thinking that JR had finally matured to the point where he could be depended on every night.
Sadly JR has declined since then, partly due to age but mainly due to a lack of drive and ambition. This happens to a lot of players; they play really well in the final year of their contract, get a big new deal then, seeing no reason to try hard anymore, decline significantly.
The ex-GM of the Cavs David Griffin said on the Wine and Gold Talk Podcast, that JR Smith is not motivated to stay in shape after he signed a long-term contract:
"I think obviously the personal situation that he and Shirley went through with their daughter had a great bearing on him emotionally during that period of time. I think the fact that he got guaranteed money moving forward really made it so he was less likely to keep himself in shape than when he was going year to year. There was a reason he was so good on a year-to-year contract, and part of that was, emotionally, he needed to care at the end of the year. So, I think to some degree, he shows up out of shape and then he gets injured getting himself in shape. And, so I hope what we see this year is a J.R. Smith that’s hellbent on proving something and shows up in shape. And if he does that and he doesn’t get injured, I think he’s still capable of playing high-level basketball. But he hasn’t been motivated to be that since he signed the deal, so you would have to say in that situation, the deal wasn’t the right deal, because it didn’t bring out the best in J.R."
With LeBron having left town for luscious LA I feel that JR will decline even more this season as he won’t even have the incentive of playing for a title-contending team to get him to work hard and stay at the top of his game.
I’m happy that JR got his NBA title and his long-term deal, I’m just sad he choose not to build on that and really show us that he has matured into the player we all thought he could be.