J.R. Smith: From controversial to coveted

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J.R. Smith is quite a complex character in the larger than life world of the NBA.

There are many kinds of people that comprise the NBA. You have the freak athletes like LeBron James, the fierce competitors like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, and even the eternally successful, consummate pros like Tim Duncan.

On the other hand, you have gregarious characters like Dennis Rodman, the benevolent and philanthropic Luol Deng and animated pre-game artists like Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.

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Smith, falls somewhere in between all of that as a rare cocktail of traits. He's a socialising maverick that has occasional flirts of ambition.

When Smith is focused, he is a great offensive outlet who won Sixth Man of the Year with the New York Knicks. It's his penchant for partying and finding trouble off the court that has possibly restricted the 30-year-old from achieving more in his NBA career to date.

The party lifestyle of New York was said not to suit Smith's personality. The vast nightlife provided ample distraction for the swingman (sounds like a euphemism in context, but it isn't) and when that falls on top of a slew of motoring offences and accidents, as well as some social media faux pas, many general managers must have wondered if he was worth the bother.

When he was traded to Cleveland in January 2015, it was easy to see where New York were coming from. There were plenty of reasons for New York to invest in more reliable options for the $5 million they were paying him, but LeBron didn't see things that way in north-east Ohio.

"Just understand what J.R.'s been through and people just saying that there's no way he can be a winner," James said. "When our GM came to us last year and said, 'Hey, we've got a deal to get Timofey Mozgov and get Iman Shumpert, and the Knicks are going to throw in J.R.' I was like, 'What? They're going to throw in J.R. into the deal?' And I was like, 'Okay, I've got him. I got him.' And J.R. turned himself into not only a huge boost to our team, but he turned himself into a two-way player, both sides of the floor."

LeBron was exactly what Smith needed. The sheer will King James exuded in his pursuit to bring the Cavaliers - his hometown franchise - their first ever NBA title, coupled with his once in a generation ability was a force too powerful to resist.

In fact, it basically had a seismic pull, and any teammate within a reasonable radius of James would be consumed and enveloped by his greatness.

Smith was no different. The former Denver Nuggets and then-New Orleans Hornets man averaged 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists during the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors this year and proved to be a key role player during the historic 4-3 series win.

One year prior, just five months into his stint with the Cavs, he came up short against the same opponent 4-2. Whereas he exhibited a three-point percentage of 35.9 last season in the postseason, this year he matched a career-high of 42.9 percent to record a significant increase.

Speaking ahead of the 2015 Finals, Smith revealed that Carmelo Anthony - who is godfather to one of his daughter's - wished Smith all the best in his new, top-end endeavours.

“I heard from him [Anthony], he’s excited for us,’’ Smith said. “He’s excited for us. I talked to him for a while. I can’t say everything he said, I’d probably get fined. It was a great conversation.’’

Now, Smith is an unrestricted free agent and is free to test the open market, but not as a personality with glimpses of class, but an NBA champion.

Interestingly, the same man that moulded him into that champion will play a large part in whether Smith remains in Cleaveland. James has also declined his player option and is in for an enormous payday. With their roster already the most expensive in the NBA, how much room would there be for Smith?

One thing is for sure, if he has to move on, he is in for a payday of his own.

New York Knicks
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
NBA Finals
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Carmelo Anthony
JR Smith

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