Yesterday afternoon, it was reported that Cavaliers’ shooting guard J.R. Smith will not attend a team mini-camp as he deliberates a new contract with the Cavs front office. While this doesn’t appear to be of any consequence on the surface, it could spell bad news for the Cavaliers.
First and foremost, this particular mini-camp is not run by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s run by LeBron James. The coaching staff will be there, but for the most part, it’s James’ pet project. Why is this important, you ask? Well, if LeBron thinks it’s a good idea to get some extra time in together before the preseason, then it’s probably a good freakin’ idea. Cleveland is staring down what could amount to being one of the toughest title defense attempts in NBA history, and the more time they can get together to be on the same page and solidify is nothing short of absolutely vital. Without Smith there, the team is incomplete.
All of that being said, Smith certainly has every right not to attend. In fact, it is almost expected. Just last year, Cavaliers’ center Tristan Thompson was caught up in contract negotiations that sidelined him for the entire preseason. (Side note: Thompson has reportedly started dating Khloe Kardashian, which is a bigger distraction than any contract negotiation. Sigh.) The preseason holdout is a rite of passage in professional sports, but in this particular case, it hurts the team more than ever. As previously mentioned, the Cavaliers face a long road. The Eastern Conference has gotten better, the Western Conference has gotten better than it already was, and oh yeah, by the way, all the Golden State Warriors did was go out and get a guy named Kevin Durant. The tall task of coming out as back-to-back champions among a field of such talent requires all hands on deck and a sturdy ship.
What exactly have the Cavaliers done? If anything, they’ve regressed this off-season. They lost Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova, and only managed to bring in Mike Dunleavy, Chris Andersen and Kay Felder. Those players might add a margin of depth to the roster, but are any of those guys going to really change your season? I know it’s not like they need to change much, they just won an NBA Title for crying out loud, but with the great migration that occurred in the NBA this off-season, it almost feels like they had to do something. The easy move would’ve been to see what you could get for Kevin Love, but perhaps they can wait until midway through the season to see how he pans out in his third year with the team.
All of these factors at hand highlight the importance of a guy like J.R. Smith, a starter on a defending champion, to be present at this mini-camp. If the Cavs are going to win a title in 2016-17, it’s not going to be from raw talent alone. Golden State has them beat in that department. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to win a title because of their cohesion as a group and the tight bond they share with each other. That’s something talent alone can’t accomplish. Golden State can have all the talent in the world, but if Durant doesn’t mesh in as well as they initially forecasted, their ceiling is immediately lowered. That, my friends, is where Cleveland’s strength lies. That is why J.R. Smith is hurting his team by not attending this mini-camp. Each day his contract situation isn’t resolved, the Cavaliers miss another day to bond as a team. Each day his contract situation isn’t resolved, media attention is casting a negative light on the Cavaliers. Well, J.R., the clock is ticking.