We're three weeks deep in NBA free agency and JR Smith is somehow still unsigned. How much is he really worth?
There are lots of rumors about the impending JR Smith free agent contract. Everyone believes he'll re-sign in Cleveland and the going rate seems to be somewhere in the $15 million per year range. While that may seem high for a guy that they balked at signing for less than $10m last year, I will explain to you exactly how and why JR Smith is worth every bit of $15m and probably more.
Reason number 1: Dan Gilbert is OK with paying for players.
DG has long been in favor of paying whatever it takes to help build a championship team. He makes unbelievable amounts of money from Quicken Loans, so if he loses $25 million from going over the luxury tax, it's no sweat off his back. It's probably quite the opposite: Paying for good players allows his team to go deeper into the playoffs (more ticket sales) and win championships (tremendous merchandising sales). When his team is playing games in Cleveland, visitors are dropping money in his casino. It's all coming up as wins for this guy.
Reason number 2: JR Smith is better than a ton of guys who are making $15m per year.
Here is an incomplete list of guys whose contracts will pay them $14 million or more this coming season: Timofey Mozgov, Evan Turner, Kent Bazemore, Ian Mahinmi, Tobias Harris, Luol Deng, and my personal favorite, Harrison Barnes, who is making a ho-hum $22m this season. Name one of those players who you would rather have than JR Smith. Deng already failed in Cleveland, Barnes missed every shot he took within the city limits, Mozgov (who I still like a lot) didn't see the floor, Bazemore was solid, I guess, Turner can't shoot, Harris is OK, and Ian Mahinmi could show up at my house and say "I'm Ian Mahinmi" and I'd be like "Hi Ian, I'm not interested in changing to a new energy company but thanks for stopping by. Also, you're tall for an outside salesman."
JR is better than those guys. He deserves to at least be paid like he's on equal footing with them. Obviously there are guys who are underpaid in the NBA, but not this summer. How many of those guys can make shots like this?
Reason number 3: JR is an integral part of a championship team.
JR Smith has gotten a lot of good press in the past few months. It started when he began raining fire from downtown in the playoffs (7-11 in game 2 of round one against Detroit) and continued when Ty Lue pointed out that JR was one of Cleveland's best defenders. It carried right through to him scoring eight extremely important points early in the 2nd half of game 7 of the NBA Finals.
JR played the 3rd most minutes in the playoffs for Cleveland behind LeBron and Kyrie (only 44 total minutes behind Kyrie). He was the 4th highest scorer, the 3rd best steals-man, and shot 43% from beyond the arc. He did everything you could have wanted JR Smith to do, but more. LeBron has called out how great JR Smith was and is - publicly - on multiple occasions.
Reason number 4: The goose has been cooked.
You can't pay Shumpert $10m per year, watch JR play the exact role Shump was supposed to play but do it better, and then pay him a similar salary. You just can't. ?He has earned the distinction of being paid like a stud because he played like a stud on both ends of the floor. This is still one of my favorite defensive plays of the playoffs.
Reason number 5: People love him here.
JR has turned into a legend. The myth of his no-shirt has reached impossible heights and people can't get enough of it. He endeared himself to the nation after breaking down in tears on the post-game podium at game 7 and then kept all of our hearts full when he grabbed the mic at the championship parade to announce that he hadn't put on a shirt in three days.
Also, in case you somehow missed it, someone handed him a child during the parade. What did JR do? He Rafiki'ed that kid right the hell up into the spotlight. The crowd went nuts. The kid had Spina Bifida and JR was like "Yo little dude, I got you" and thrust him up into the sunlight like a heavenly being. I'm getting emotional thinking about it.
That's it. Those are the top 5 reasons why JR Smith is worth every penny. He was part of the trade last year because he could shoot threes and was allegedly a head casewho New York could offload. He turned into a terrifying weapon on offense and an above average defender with the ability to pester stud shooting guards, taking some heat off LeBron and Kyrie. What more could you ask for?