The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Dwyane Wade during the offseason, and head coach Tyronn Lue immediately inserted him into the starting lineup. That rubbed J.R. Smith the wrong way, he admitted on Friday, and Cleveland’s former starting guard said he didn’t know Wade would start before he was signed in free agency.
"Honestly, I was hurt, man," Smith said on the Road Trippin’ podcast with Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. "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.'
"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," he continued. "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.”
Smith has legitimate concerns about Wade starting
LeBron James played at his usual all-world level for the Cavaliers last season, but he was even better when Cleveland put four shooters around him on offense. Wade is a sub-29 percent three-point shooter for his career, and with both he and Derrick Rose — another poor perimeter shooter — in the starting lineup (until Isaiah Thomas returns from injury), LeBron could have fewer options for his drive-and-kick game.
That’s a puzzling move for a player like J.R. Smith, someone who’s shot 38 percent or better from distance in three of the past four seasons and has worked tirelessly to turn himself into a serviceable perimeter defender.
"I'm looking at our lineup like, my first thought with the lineup was, 'OK, but who is going to stretch the floor?’” Smith said. “OK, we got Jae [Crowder], who is a knock-down three-point shooter, Kev [Kevin Love] is a knock-down three-point shooter, but that's two out of the five guys that's got to be on the floor."
But he accepted his role and will come off the bench again
J.R. Smith didn’t like when Mike Woodson brought him off the bench on the Knicks in 2013. That turned out to be the best season of his career: He averaged 18 points and 5.3 rebounds per game to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Now, Smith’s being asked to be a gunner off the bench once again. It’ll take some work on his part, but as long as there’s no static between Smith and Wade — and with Wade working to “build the best relationship,” there shouldn’t be — things should be just fine in Cleveland.
According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Smith approached Lue about coming off the bench in preseason play to get used to leading the second unit. If he can do that, anchor the offense while LeBron and company are off the floor, his transition from starter back to sixth man should be seamless.