INDEPENDENCE: J.R. Smith was noticeably absent from the Cavaliers’ Media Day lineup on Monday, just as he was missing from the team’s player-hosted minicamp in California last week.
How long he is away remains to be seen, although LeBron James and Cavs general manager David Griffin both expressed optimism a new contract could be completed sooner rather than later.
Of course, both men said similar things about Tristan Thompson’s holdout last year, and that didn’t end until days before the start of the regular season.
“We have made an incredibly competitive and aggressive offer in re-signing him,” Griffin said. “We hope that gets done in very short order and, at the same time, we’ve been a team that has become really accustomed to a ‘next man up’ mentality and we expect this will be no different.”
Smith is an unrestricted free agent and the final missing piece to the start of the Cavs’ title defense. While Thompson was a restricted free agent last year and assured of returning to the Cavs in some capacity, Smith is unrestricted and free to sign with another team.
His value is highest to the Cavs, however, and the team is anxious to get him back because they have no real avenue to replace him. But the two sides are hung up on the length of the deal.
“I’m optimistic both sides will get it done,” said James, who shares an agent with Smith in Rich Paul. “J.R. is a huge piece of our team and without him, we don’t win a championship last year. He brings a dimension to our team we just don’t have. He’s a two-way player, he’s a space guy and he’s a great locker room guy.”
Complicating matters Monday was Mo Williams’ sudden retirement. Williams’ agent informed the team Monday he was retiring, leaving the Cavs two guards short in their backcourt. They can withstand the loss of Williams easier than Smith, but losing both cripples their backcourt.
“We think very highly of J.R. and we love him as a member of our team, as a member of our locker room,” Griffin said. “He was essential to our success.”
The Cavs enjoyed the riches of champions. Kevin Love toured the late-night talk circuit, Iman Shumpert and his fiancée starred in one of Kanye West’s music videos and Tristan Thompson became linked to a Kardashian. Now it’s time to do something else no Cleveland team has done in more than 60 years: successfully defend a championship.
“It’s a matter of knowing the hunter has become the hunted,” Love said. “The East has gotten better. There’s a lot more parity throughout the Eastern Conference. … It’s paramount for us to get off to a really well-balanced start to the season.”
James successfully defended a championship with the Miami Heat when he won consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013. He isn’t worried about delivering any speeches to make sure this team is in the proper mindset to do it again.
“We’re not satisfied. We’re not satisfied with just winning one championship,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with just being successful. We want to continue to get better.
“Does that mean you’re going to be able to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season? Absolutely not. But we want to give our team chances, give ourselves a better opportunity because we want to put in the work. To have 13 guys in California last week, our minicamp, it meant a lot to everyone to recalibrate, see the guys, put in work and get a fast track on things.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.