Report: Cavs officials say J.R. Smith is ‘highly motivated’ after two disappointing seasons

Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Cavaliers should expect a rock solid season from J.R. Smith.

According to’s Chris Fedor, team officials say that Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith is “highly motivated” to have a standout year after having disappointing seasons in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.

"Talk to members of the Cavs organization and they will say the same thing: Smith is “highly motivated” after two dreadful seasons.A strong summer has him ready. At 33 years old and near the end of his career, Smith understands what’s at stake here. He needs a strong camp. If not, well, there are plenty of options behind him."

Drafted in 2004, Smith wasn’t always expected to fit a role where the ball wasn’t consistently in his hands.

An athletic 6-foot-6 swingman with solid ball-handling skills and jump shot that could be deadly on the right night, Smith’s rookie season is just one of three seasons (out of a total of 14 seasons) that his three-point rate has been below 40.0 percent. His second career season and 2012-2013, the season he won Sixth Man of the Year, were the other two.

Now, at 33-years-old and having been traded for with the explicit purpose of being an off-ball threat that could fit beside LeBron James better than Dion Waiters, Smith has settled into the role of the three-point specialist.

For the Cavs, he’s the archetypal three-and-D wing.

Since his arrival in Cleveland, at least 60.0 percent of his shots have come from three-point range in every season; 66.4 percent in 2014-2015 (Cavs only), 60.0 percent in 2015-2016, 76.1 percent in 2016-2017 and 64.0 percent last season. In those four seasons, he’s made 37.6 percent of his three-point attempts as a Cav.

However, after making 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts in his first two years as a Cav, Smith’s long-range accuracy has cratered in the 2016-2017 season and he shot just 35.1 percent from three.

He also couldn’t buy a bucket from anywhere else on the floor, shooting 34.6 percent from the field before bouncing back with 40.3 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three last season.

It’s understood that Smith had significant off-court concerns in 2016-2017 though, with his wife Jewel giving birth to a premature daughter in January. Jewel announced her pregnancy in October.

Unfortunately for Smith, last season his main issue was that he just couldn’t figure out what his role was and how to be effective in it for much of the season.

When Dwyane Wade started the season at shooting guard, Smith was demoted to the bench and began trying to be more of an on-ball playmaker and lane penetrator with interesting, though some would just say poor, results.

When Smith reclaimed his starting role, he had to revert back to being a three-and-D wing and though he did well behind-the-line, his defense was disappointing.

He’s never been the best off-ball defender, prone to losing his defender on the backside.

However, after two seasons showing his stuff as a big and athletic wing defender who stole (no pun intended) Kobe’s technique of stealing balls by swiping upwards and has taken the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best wing defender seriously, Smith seemed to be losing a step.

It was suddenly all too easy to blow by him on the perimeter and with a lineup that needed communication and coordination, he blew far too many defensive assignments.

To make it worse, Smith was suspended by the Cavs for one game after throwing soup at assistant coach Damon Jones in March. It wasn’t a harsh penalty but shows the level of frustration Smith was having with the season and himself.

Smith’s saving grace has been his marksmanship in the playoffs, as he’s made 40.6 percent of his threes in the postseason as a Cav. When he struggled from three in 2016-2017, he bounced back with 50.0 percent shooting from three-point range in the playoffs; Smith is made for the big moments.

In the postseason, his defense against players like Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson, former Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and Indiana Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo has been invaluable.

Yet, the biggest gaffe J.R. has ever made happened in the playoffs too:

Dribbling the ball and running out the last four seconds of regulation in a tied game against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.

The precursor to the Cavs’ eventual defeat in Game 1, LeBron James (who had scored 51 points) fracturing his hand by punching a whiteboard in frustration and possibly LeBron’s eventual departure from Cleveland, his NBA Finals record (3-9) making him look like a cross between Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.

Smith’s motivation for next season is steeped in the struggles of his past two seasons but the greatest motivating factor has to be the embarrassment he felt from forgetting the score in a (championship) game.

Cleveland’s favorite son, the “Henny God,” was now an enemy of the state and for good reason.

Sure, George Hill missed a free-throw that could have given the Cavs the led but players miss free-throws all of the time. They don’t forget the score in a tied game at the end of regulation though.

Next season, Smith will enter the 2018-2019 without a guaranteed starting role.

In fact, with the post-LeBron youth movement, the Cavs will likely start Collin Sexton and Rodney Hood in the backcourt. According to Hood, Lue viewed him as a starter when they traded for him last season.

Cedi Osman is capable of guarding the elite wings too and he’s also energetic and athletic enough to wreak havoc as a defensive-stopper.

Furthermore, reduced minutes could benefit Smith, as he ages. Smith can come into the game and provide the Cavs with timely threes and solid defense but without having to rely on him for either, he’ll face less criticism if he doesn’t deliver.

For a player trying to rehabilitate his image, minimizing the amount of public criticism he receives will be key.

Smith should have a strong season though. Reports are that he’s been working hard all offseason and when his back is against the wall, he’s at his best.

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*All stats gathered from