CLEVELAND — J.R. Smith has no regrets about his forced exile from the Cavaliers last season.
He has no anxiety about being in NBA limbo, waiting to see if the Cavs can trade his valuable expiring contract to a team seeking salary cap relief or will be forced to cut him.
“Technically my whole career’s been in limbo, so this is easy for me,” he said.
He has not spent time dwelling on the fact that his playing days could be over, even though he turns 34 in September and he’s a shooting guard who hasn’t averaged in double figures since he helped the Cavs win the 2016 championship.
“I don’t think that’s a possibility at this point. I know I will,” he said of continuing his NBA career. “Maybe years down the line I won’t. As of right now that’s the furthest thing ...”
Smith returned to Cleveland for Sunday’s Major League Baseball Celebrity Softball Game, part of the festivities surrounding Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Progressive Field.
Despite what transpired last season and his costly gaffe in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, Smith’s fans still love him. In introductions for the “Cleveland vs. The World” game, Smith received one of the biggest ovations, along with ex-Indians Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga and former Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.
To no one's surprise, Smith came to the plate shirtless for his first at-bat.
“The respect and the love that I get for being the person I am around the city of Cleveland, that’s real,” said Smith, who now lives in his native New Jersey. “One of the [bigger] stress relievers is being able to feel wanted, even if it’s not by the organization, it’s the city, that’s bigger to me than anything. The people who spent their hard-earned money to come cheer for you, root for you.
“I love to see the smiles, I love the appreciation, the hard work. People don’t realize how much [New] Jersey and Cleveland are so similar, we work off our own sweat. I think that’s the biggest thing as far as the connection between myself and Cleveland. We’ve all worked to get where we’re at and we’re here and we did it together.”
Smith has not been with the Cavs since Nov. 20, a day after he told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic he had no desire to play for an organization that had no interest in winning after a loss in Detroit dropped the Cavs to 2-13. He played in just 11 games, averaging 6.7 points and shooting .308 from 3-point range.
The Cavs were expected to waive or trade Smith by a June 30 deadline so they could pay him only $3.87 million of his guaranteed $15.68 million salary for next season. On June 29, Smith agreed to push back that date to July 15, with an option to push it again to Aug. 1, in exchange for his guaranteed money being increased to $4.4 million.
Smith has no idea where he’s going to end up.
“I wish I did. I don’t have my rights. I’m not the general manager or the owner, so I don’t really have a choice in those decisions,” Smith said. “I’ll be home with my family and when they call me, they call me.”
He said he will not be reaching out to former teammate LeBron James in hopes the Los Angeles Lakers will give him another shot in the league. He and James are both represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.
“No. I ain’t got to do that, my resume speaks for itself,” Smith said.
Smith said he still goes through basketball workouts, has integrated weights into his routine and trained with “a couple football guys” to stay in playing shape.
Asked about an Instagram post showing bottles of alcohol on his home bar that he intended to pour out, he said, “I stopped all the drinking at my house. We had a bad episode with some people so I said, ‘No more alcohol is allowed at my house. If you want to go drink, go drink down the street.’ ”
As for the Cavs, he has no regrets over how things unfolded.
“No. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for the duration of the season, but it worked out the way it was supposed to,” he said. “Things happened to me a lot in my life where I’ve questioned or tried to figure out why and I still haven’t.
“It had nothing to do with basketball. Basketball is easy for me. Basketball is something I love to do, I’m not going to let nobody take my passion for it. That’s why I still work out and train and play games with other guys. Regardless if it’s in the NBA or not, I’m always going to play.”
He said these are not anxious days. Smith feels fortunate to have this time with his wife, Jewel, and four daughters — Peyton (10), Demi (10), Dakota (2) and Denver (1).
“I’m fortunate to be home with my kids and my wife for this amount of time. I don’t take that for granted,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball professionally for going on 16 years and so much time has been lost. I’ve been trying to make up for that as much as I can.
“I live a good life. There’s no reason for me to be stressed or be dissatisfied. I’ve got four amazing kids. I went through one of the toughest parts of my life with my [premature] daughter [Dakota]. This is a cakewalk ... I get to be around my kids growing up. I don’t have to wait until I’m retired, ‘Oh, I missed this.’ I’ve been blessed.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.