The Cavaliers really hyped J.R. Smith as a trade asset.
For most contracts, only the guaranteed portion of a player’s salary counts toward matching in a trade. But because Smith signed his deal under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, his full $15,680,000 salary counts even though just a small portion of it is guaranteed.
That structure would’ve been helpful for another team looking to shed salary. That team could trade a similarly expensive player for Smith’s contract, waive Smith and pay only his small guarantee.
The Cavs were so confident they’d deal Smith, they even increased his guarantee from $3.9 million to $4.4 million in exchange for him pushing back his guarantee date from June 30 to July 15. That bought more time to find a trade.
But a trade like that has long seemed unlikely for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are near the luxury-tax line, and using Smith’s contract as a trade chip that way would’ve increased their payroll. By enabling another team to unload salary, the Cavs would’ve taken on that money. They would’ve had until the final day of the regular season to escape the tax, but they’re reportedly not interested in trading their most expensive player, Kevin Love. They have other burdensome contracts that aren’t easy to move. There just isn’t appetite for even risking paying the tax on such a lousy team.
So, Smith’s time in Cleveland will reach its predictable end today.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
The Cavaliers must stretch Smith’s guaranteed salary to get under the tax line now. That will lock in a $1,466,667 cap hit the next three seasons.
Smith will become an unrestricted free agent. There had been talk of him joining the Lakers, but they now have 14 players with standard contracts – only one short of the regular-season limit. I suspect Kyle Korver will be a bigger priority.
In Cleveland, Smith will always be remembered for helping the Cavs win the 2016 championship and his shirtless summer of celebration. It went south for him after that. He struggled on a long-term contract, threw soup and spent nearly all of last season exiled as the Cavs eyed trading him this offseason.
That idea fizzled, and Smith’s career could, too. He’ll turn 34 before the season and hasn’t played well in years. Maybe another team will take a flier on him. This also might be the end.