INDEPENDENCE: LeBron James applied pressure to the Cavaliers Friday to strike a deal with free agent guard J.R. Smith. James insisted he has stayed out of negotiations to this point, but seemed to make it clear he sides with Smith.
“Negotiations are always two sides, but J.R. did his part,” James said. “He showed up every day. Worked his ass off every day. Became a two-way player, a model citizen in Cleveland and he’s a fan favorite. Obviously we all know that. … He’s a big piece of our team and they just need to get it done.”
Smith shares an agent, Rich Paul, with both James and Tristan Thompson. This marks the second contract dispute in as many seasons involving a Paul client after Thompson was a holdout for all of preseason last year. Thompson was a restricted free agent, meaning he was bound to return to the Cavs at some point. Smith is an unrestricted free agent and available to sign with another team. To this point, he has remained close to Cleveland during the dispute, even taking in a few Indians games.
“I hate coming into another season – two years in a row – with one of my big guns not here,” James said. “So for a leader of a team and for me personally, I just hate to deal with this s--- again. It’s just too big of a piece to our team to have to deal with in another training camp. Hopefully things get resolved fast, because you know how big and important he is to our team.”
Smith on Thursday retweeted something Paul wrote on Twitter four years ago: “Negative communications, corrupt good manners….” Hours later, James publicly backed his teammate and fellow Klutch Sports client.
Asked if he could foresee Smith leaving Cleveland, James likened the negotiation to buying a house.
“You can go find a house, you do all the negotiations and all that, but you never got the house until it’s closed and you got the keys,” he said. “Last minute someone can step in. Escrow could fall through or something. Then it ain’t your house no more. So, J.R. is a free agent. He’s not ours. He’s still my brother right now. And I feel like when I play 2K17 he’s still on the Cavs, so he’s on my roster there, but it wouldn’t be good if he was not here. It wouldn’t be good for any side.”