It is not official until the pen is on the paper. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, J.R. Smith’s pen finally hit the paper on a Lakers contract just after 10 a.m. on the West Coast on Wednesday.
The Lakers followed with a welcome-to-the-team tweet shortly thereafter:
So begins Smith’s shot at redemption with the Lakers, something he has been seeking for much of the season. Smith was signed to the Lakers’ roster after starting guard Avery Bradley backed out of the NBA’s planned restart of the season in Orlando, citing family reasons, last month.
This is not the first flirtation the Lakers had with Smith, but it is the first time he has been granted a spot. When Smith was released by the Cavaliers last summer, there was some expectation that the Lakers would consider rejoining Smith with his former teammate and friend, LeBron James, in L.A. The Lakers were not interested, though.
Smith worked out for the Lakers in early March, after the trade deadline. The Lakers were looking to fill the spot left by waived wing Troy Daniels, a spot that eventually went to Dion Waiters.
J.R. Smith is Tight With LeBron James
Smith remains close with James and has been living in Los Angeles. He worked out with James last September in preparation for the 2019-20 season.
The one problem then was that Smith did not have a team. He began the 2018-19 season expecting to have a major role with the Cavaliers, but was frustrated to learn that, shortly after the year got underway, the team cut his role to focus on young players. Smith left the team in hopes of forcing a trade or a buyout.
The Cavs could not find a taker for Smith in a trade despite months of trying. He was waived using the league’s stretch provision. Smith could not land a spot on another roster and has not played in an NBA game since November 2018.
That hit him hard.
“Honestly, I felt like I was depressed,” he told the Pat McAfee Show last month, “I felt like finding a purpose of getting up every day and doing something was a struggle for a long time. Fortunately, I have gotten out of that rut and got back into the love and appreciation of the game.”
Smith Will Fill in for Avery Bradley
Smith’s 22-month absence from the NBA, his age (he will be 35 in September), and his lack of versatility make him a questionable fit for the Lakers, who are hoping he can stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting, creating room for James and big man Anthony Davis.
In the 11 games he played for Cleveland in 2018, Smith shot just 30.8% from the 3-point line. He was very good in the previous season from distance (37.5%), though.
Smith has been a good shooter in postseason situations, making 37.0% of his 3s in 130 career playoff games. He was especially effective in the four years he played alongside James with the Cavs in the postseason (40.6%).
But Smith is a long way from a real replacement for Bradley, who is a capable ballhandler and an elite perimeter defender. Smith is a notably poor defensive player, and in his last full season, he was one of the worst defenders on the Cavs roster—opponents scored 6.9 more points per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor than off.
Smith, surely, is happy to have another crack at the NBA. But because he adds little other value, he will need to make 3s to have a real chance to earn playing time.