Even though J.R. Smith hasn’t played for the Cavaliers or been with the team since November, he still technically remains under contract with Cleveland. The Cavs explored possible trades before the deadline but couldn’t find anything to their liking. Rather than buying out Smith’s contract after the deadline though, the Cavs held onto him, indicating that they’d try again to move him in the offseason.
There are some good reasons for the Cavaliers to believe they can move Smith this summer, despite the fact that he didn’t look good to start the season and hasn’t appeared in a game in nearly four months. However, there are also a couple reasons why a deal might not be viable that have nothing to do with Smith’s on-court performance.
Let’s take a closer look at the situation…
Smith is a 33-year-old outside shooter who wasn’t shooting particularly well this season (.308 3PT%). He’s also earning $14.72MM. Why would he have positive trade value?
Ironically, the contract that made Smith difficult to move at this year’s trade deadline is the thing that could clear a path to an offseason deal. Once this season ends, a team with interest in trading for Smith wouldn’t have to worry about paying his $14.72MM salary for 2018/19. That club would only have to consider his $15.68MM salary for 2019/20.
How is that better?
That ’19/20 salary is only partially guaranteed for $3.87MM, meaning whichever team ends up with Smith wouldn’t be on the hook for the entire thing. If he’s waived by the end of June, a team could either leave the $3.87MM charge on its cap for 2019/20 or stretch it, spreading it across three years at a rate of $1.29MM annually.
What would be the point of trading for Smith just to waive him?
For teams that don’t necessarily project to have as much cap flexibility as they’d like this offseason, acquiring Smith in exchange for a player with a sizable guaranteed 2019/20 salary represents a fast track to creating that flexibility.
For instance, let’s say that the Hornets, in an effort to re-sign Kemba Walker and get him some help, want to try to create some cap space this summer. Trading, say, Bismack Biyombo ($17MM player option for ’19/20) in exchange for Smith and then stretching J.R. would allow the team to trim $15.71MM from its books for next season.