J.R. Smith declined his $6,399,750 player option in search of a better contract.
He hasn’t found one yet.
Unsurprisingly, he probably can’t even break even.
The Cavs have made him an offer. I hear it’s less than $6.4 million that he turned down.
The Cavaliers’ top priority, as decreed by LeBron James, is re-signing Tristan Thompson. But re-signing Smith would also help Cleveland. His 3-point shooting is particularly valuable given the open looks LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love create by drawing so much attention.
If the Cavaliers don’t keep Smith, they could offer only a minimum salary (or a smidge more to a player with fewer than eight years of experience) for a replacement. That’s not going to net a shooter as good as Smith, unless Ray Allen comes out of retirement.
So, Smith has a little leverage.
But Cleveland has much more.
Only the 76ers and Trail Blazers can offer Smith at least $6.4 million. I doubt either rebuilding team would.
The Cavaliers, armed with the Brendan Haywood trade exception, could trade for a replacement. Jamal Crawford is reportedly on their radar. They might have higher hopes with that exception, but a trade is a suitable fallback option.
One question the Cavaliers must ask themselves: Do they want to retain Smith for the lowest possible amount, or would they prefer to keep him happy? Smith has a history of sulking when things go poorly. Matching his player-option salary would allow him to save face. That might be worth the extra money (and luxury-tax payments).
Right now, though, Cleveland clearly doesn’t think so.