Just a few days after Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue announced that Dwyane Wade would be taking J.R. Smith’s spot in the team’s starting lineup, it’s apparent the decision wasn’t taken in stride.
Smith is “absolutely frustrated” over losing the job. While Smith is willing to do what it takes to help the team, he made clear to note that the conversation surrounding his benching didn’t go too swimmingly.
“We talked about it,” Smith told Cleveland.com. “It wasn’t the most positive conversation, but we talked about it and we’ll get through it together.”
In addition to Smith, the Cavaliers relegated Tristan Thompson to bench duties. The three-time defending Eastern Conference champs have instead decided to go with Kevin Love at center and the recently acquired Jae Crowder at the four next to LeBron James.
The interesting dynamic here is that Smith previously seemed okay with the idea of coming off the bench.
“I’ll come off the bench. I’m not going to sit here and get into a blank-measuring contest with Dwyane Wade. I’m not going to win that. I’m not going to do that,” Smith said late last month. “I’m going to continue to work hard for our team and however they choose to do it, that’s who it’s going to be.”
Smith has been a starter in each of the Cavaliers’ past three NBA Finals teams. Last season saw him average a 12-year low 8.6 points while shooting at a 35 percent clip from the field. It goes without saying that Wade is an upgrade on the first unit. Sending Smith to the bench also gives the Cavaliers immediate scoring on the second unit.
Despite this, it will be interesting to see if drama emerges here. By the tone of Smith’s comments, it seems he was warned in advance by LeBron that relegation to the second unit was in the cards. How that plays out, especially with James’ bestie taking Smith’s spot in the lineup, remains to be seen.