Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt can’t live without him.
“J.R. Smith has been a dream for us, as a team and for me personally,” Blatt said on Saturday afternoon. “I love the guy. I love coaching him. He comes to work every single day, he’s a great teammate, he’s playing both ends of the court for us consistently. He’s one of the main reasons for our turnaround, together with [fellow ex-Knick Iman Shumpert], who simply started later because of the injury. Those guys, honestly, they’ve been a godsend. They really have.”
Those words can be interpreted in several ways by Knicks fans.
There will be those who may see the team’s current record (10-44) and recall the small haul Jackson’ got in return for Smith and Shumpert (a second-round pick and trade exceptions), and become agitated.
Others may see Blatt’s words and remember hearing similar platitudes from Mike Woodson and Derek Fisher -– two coaches who had their own issues with the 2012-13 Sixth Man Award winner.
Here’s the bottom line: Jackson ultimately jettisoned Smith and Shumpert, in part, to get rid of Smith’s $6.4 million 2015-16 player option. Smith said on Saturday that he probably would have picked up that option if he stayed in New York.
Removing Smith’s $6.4 million deal from the books gives New York more cap space to use on potential free agents this summer.
Smith understands that reasoning.
“They’ve been saying they want a chance to start everything over and rebuild and now they get a chance to do it,” he said after Cavs practice in Manhattan as his team prepared for Sunday's game against the Knicks.
Smith struggled to adjust to the Knicks' triangle offense in the first half of the season. He said he's more comfortable in Cleveland’s offense, which asks him to simply hit open shots, move the ball and play defense.
“It’s just much easier to play. The style of basketball that we play suits my game. Run and gun, shoot open shots, play defense, just play,” Smith said.
Smith is scoring two more points per game in Cleveland, but his shooting percentages have remained virtually the same. He’s simply shooting -- and making -- more 3s with the Cavs than he had with the Knicks (1.3 per game with NYK; 2.8 with CLE).
LeBron James, whose Cavs have won 15 of 17, says Smith has been “everything we needed and more. He’s been a two-way player, he can spread the floor for us offensively, makes plays offensively, and he defends the 2 guards at a high level defensively. He’s an unselfish guy and all he cares about is winning and that’s huge.”
Smith said he looks forward to seeing everyone at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and he sees better days ahead for the Knicks. He doesn't think New York will have trouble recruiting players this summer -- but Smith says the club will have to find players willing to adapt to the triangle.
“It’s just a matter of, ‘Does this situation suit my game?’” Smith said. “If you’re a freelancing player and you like to play up and down, it’s not going to suit your game. If you like to play in the half court, move the ball and stuff like that and sacrifice, then it is your situation. It just depends.”
Melo is “bummed”: James said he talked to Carmelo Anthony on Friday, a day after he underwent season-ending surgery to repair his left knee.
“He’s bummed that he’s missing the rest of the season, but it was successful surgery and he had to do it,” James said. “I thought he did what’s best for the team and best for him ... He’ll come back stronger next year.”