JR Smith was taken aback by Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s decision to start Dwyane Wade after he was initially told that Wade was brought in as a backup, Smith shared on an episode of the “Road Trippin'” podcast with teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye.
“Honestly, I was hurt, man,” Smith said on the podcast, which posted Friday. “I was really emotionally drained at that point. I got wind of it that it was going to go down, but I didn’t know. I was told he’s going to be great for the second unit. … It would be a great fit for the team, whatever, whatever. I’m like, ‘Awesome, let’s do it. One hundred percent. Out of all people, another person we’re going to just grab for damn-near nothing? For sure. Let’s do it.'”
Smith then shared the message he received, presumably from Lue, followed by his reaction to the news.
“‘Well, we got to start him,'” Smith said. “‘Wait, what? Now we’re talking about two totally different things. Wait a minute.'”
Smith, who on media day said, “As long as we win, I don’t care,” when asked about Wade coming to the Cavs and perhaps affecting his role, opened up about his reaction when the possibility of Wade starting became a reality.
“My first initial thought, it wasn’t even to be selfish because that’s not just who I am as a player and as a person,” Smith said. “I’m a one-track mind. It’s what I’ve always been. That’s just me. So when you tell me something, I look at it as gold. So when you tell me something else, literally a couple of days later, it’s like, ah, now I got to change my mind frame from where I was at the last three years to flip it back to me being the sixth man — a successful three years, an extremely successful three years, I mean, we’ve been to three straight Finals.
“So to revert back, and the first thing I thought about was New York, like, ‘Damn. I got to go back to being the sixth man and just scoring, scoring, scoring. Being aggressive.’ And at the same time, also, I’m looking at our lineup like, my first thought with the lineup was, ‘OK, but who is going to stretch the floor? OK, we got Jae [Crowder], who is a knock-down 3-point shooter, Kev [Kevin Love] is a knock-down 3-point shooter, but that’s two out of the five guys that’s got to be on the floor.”
Jefferson said that Smith addressed the team as a group following the lineup shuffle. Smith also said he vented to Tristan Thompson, who also lost his starting job this season, as earlier reported by Cleveland.com.
Frye and Jefferson, who have both seen their roles diminished since the Cavs’ 2016 title run, empathized with Smith. “For us, Richard and I, we understand that you got to take a sacrifice,” Frye said. “Everybody has to sacrifice something.”
Then Jefferson interjected, poking fun at his precarious spot on the roster. Cleveland has 16 players on guaranteed contracts and will need to either waive a player or make a trade by opening night to get it down to the max allotment of 15. Jefferson, who has a $ 2.5 million deal this year and only a partially guaranteed pact next season, could very well end up being moved.
“I’m sacrificing my way out of here,” said Jefferson.
“Oh, God, come on,” Frye replied. “Rich? Too soon. Too soon.”
Frye, who averaged 9.1 points during the regular season last year only to play a grand total of 11 minutes in the Cavs’ NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, offered his perspective.
“For me, I’m like, ‘F—, this sucks,'” Frye said. “But I’m like, ‘Dude, Mo Williams and Dahntay Jones got in in the third round of the playoffs. I’m cool. I have a chance.'”
“And they got rings, by the way,” said Smith.
“Same size as ours,” added Jefferson.
“Same size as ours, same kind of diamonds,” Smith concurred.
The candor typified the type of discussions that Jefferson, Frye and co-hosts Allie Clifton and Rafa El Alcalde have been able to draw out of the Cavs since the podcast, which is hosted on LeBron James‘ “Uninterrupted” multimedia platform, launched last season. Friday was the 50th episode of “Road Trippin’.”
Wade told ESPN he hopes to build a bond with Smith and reasoned that his starting assignment might not be permanent throughout the season.
“My biggest thing with me and JR is building a relationship,” Wade said at the Cavs shootaround Friday ahead of their final preseason game against the Orlando Magic. “We know each other in passing as competitors; we haven’t known each other as teammates. So my job is to build the best relationship and show him I know what he brings to the game, he knows what I bring to the game.
“I know it was tough. I understood that. When I got here I understood it would be tough either way it goes — if it’s me or him, it’s going to be tough. But at the end of the day, I knew when I was coming in that I was coming here to be a part of this team and whatever choice that Coach made — and it’s throughout the year, it’s not just now — that if we’re really about winning the championship, we’ll figure out a way to build with it. But like I said, I know it’s tough on him because he started here and went to three Finals. But my biggest thing is to try to build a relationship with him and let him know, when he gets to know me, once you get to know somebody and get comfortable with somebody — not saying you’re OK with it — but you understand the reason more of, ‘OK, I see why they’re here. I see what they can bring to the team’ and get a little bit more comfortable.”
Lue originally planned to start Smith against the Magic because LeBron James is sitting out with a sore left ankle, but Smith requested otherwise, so Iman Shumpert will start instead.
“They’ve been working together the last few days, just trying to get things right,” Lue said. “I’m bringing JR off the bench tonight just so he can get used to it. Going to start Shump. Bringing JR off the bench. Actually he came up to me and asked me if he could come off the bench so he could get used to playing with the second unit, so I think it will be OK.”