The Cleveland Cavaliers have a logjam at the shooting guard position. Currently, Cedi Osman, J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, and Kyle Korver are all slated to see time at the two-guard, and if everything goes according to plan, both Rodney Hood and David Nwaba will be added to that group.
All six players can contribute to the team, but it may be in Cleveland’s best interest to move on from at least one. That one should be J.R. Smith, as he carries the least value for the team. What would a return package for Smith look like?
Smith will turn 33 in September and although he is nearing the end of his NBA career, he can still be a valuable rotational player for a playoff contender. After a poor 2016-2017 season, Smith rebounded last year, as he averaged 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting 40% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc.
Throughout his time in the league, Smith has never been a consistent player. When he’s on, he can sink 10 shots in a row from all over the court. When he’s off, he can’t make an uncontested layup. He is rather fragile mentally, and high basketball IQ plays have never been his strong suit, as he will make boneheaded mistakes at the worst moments, as Cavs fans are well aware.
Smith can be a very good perimeter defender, although he has a tendency to foul too much. As a depth player, Smith’s shooting ability and defensive prowess makes him very good. It’s when he is forced to take on a major starting role that he is exposed, and that was the position he was put in these past few seasons.
If he remains on the Cavaliers this season, Smith’s playing time will be reduced for two main reasons: his age and the talent around him. Because of this, he may not be worth his contract for Cleveland. Smith will make $14.7 million this season, and is owed $15.7 million in 2019-2020.
However, only $3.8 million of that 2019-2020 salary is guaranteed. This means that he would be very attractive to a team looking to create cap space for the 2019 offseason. That could be the Cavaliers, but it’s unlikely that they would want to go all-out in free agency next year.
Due to his contract, Smith now becomes an asset in two ways. He can help a contender this season and give them cap relief for the next. So which teams could have interest in him?
One club has already expressed interest in Smith. The Houston Rockets have “kicked the tires” on a deal, and would be the perfect fit for Smith. Houston’s strategy is to play strong defense and shoot the three-pointer almost exclusively.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and San Antonio Spurs are other teams that could make use of Smith’s services. San Antonio in particular is in need of a 3-and-D guard after trading Danny Green to Toronto. However, since none of these teams have inquired about Smith, the most realistic option at this point is still the Rockets.
Any deal would likely include power forward Ryan Anderson, who will make nearly $42 million over the next two seasons. Houston has been trying to move him for a while now, but has been unable to find a team willing to take on Anderson’s contract. If the Rockets are getting rid of Anderson while gaining Smith, it will cost them in the form of draft capital.
With an ongoing pseudo-rebuild, draft picks should greatly interest general manager Koby Altman. And while Houston’s selections will be at the end of the first round, having late picks are better than having no picks at all. As a result of the Kyle Korver trade last year, the Cavaliers owe the Atlanta Hawks their first-round pick this year if it falls outside of the top 10, with the same protections applying to their 2020 first rounder if Cleveland ends up being a high lottery team this season.
With the Kevin Love extension in place, it’s unlikely that the Cavs are bad enough to warrant a top-10 pick, so they could very well be without a first-round pick for the 2019 draft. An Anderson for Smith swap would change that.
Including only Smith and Anderson in the deal doesn’t work salary-wise currently, but all the Cavs would need to do would be to sign a random free agent to a minimum contract, wait 60 days, and then complete the trade.
Simple enough. For their trouble, Cleveland could net Houston’s first-round selections in 2019 and 2021. It’s a high price for the Rockets to pay, but one worth paying as they would not only gain Smith’s services for this year’s playoff run, but they would also save about $17 million in salary for the 2019 offseason.
In exchange for two picks that wouldn’t have played major roles for a team in win-now mode, that’s completely fair.
The Cavaliers could then just cut Anderson immediately and eat his salary, or keep him on the roster and use his shooting ability to their advantage. Either way, the real benefit of the deal would be to create more playing time for their young guards, and gain valuable draft capital.
J.R. Smith no longer has a clear spot on Cleveland’s roster, and the Cavs would be better suited using him to improve their future.