LEBRON James is running out of patience with the contract negotiation standoff between the Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith, and ‘The King’ has made it clear he stands behind the enigmatic free agent guard.
James, who shares the same agent as Smith and last year’s free agent holdout Tristan Thompson, expressed his frustration in entering another messy negotiation for the second straight season with someone he considers vital for Cleveland to multiple reporters Friday (Saturday, Manila time) at the end of the Cavs first week of training camp.
"I hate coming into another season -- two years in a row -- with one of my big guns not here," James said. "So, for a leader of a team and for me personally, I just hate to deal with this s--- again.”
“It's just too big of a piece to our team to have to deal with in another training camp. Like I said, hopefully things get resolved fast, because you know how big and important he is to our team," James added.
The Cleveland star wasn’t even supposed to talk to the media for the day, but he took the opportunity to publicly show his support for Smith.
"Negotiations are always two-sides," James said, "but J.R. did his part. J.R. did his part. He showed up every day. Worked his ass off every day. Became a two-way player, a model citizen in Cleveland and he's a fan favorite, obviously we all know that. All of the sudden now he's a season-ticket holder at the Indians games."
Sources have told ESPN that the Cavs have a standing three-year escalating offer for Smith, partially guaranteed for a fourth year. The total of the deal would amount to more than US$42 million, similar to Jamal Crawford’s new deal with the LA Clippers. But without the fourth year option, the guaranteed money is only US$30.5 million.
For his part, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is confident a deal can be made but in case Smith bolts, the team can withstand the departure.
"We're saying that he is going to come back," Lue said. "If he doesn't come back, we understand it's a business and we just have to move forward. No excuses. Next man up. Next man has to be ready. We have some great pieces around who can also step in and play a role for us on this team."
"We're missing a piece, but we still have enough talent," James agreed with Lue. "We can't become full until he's here, but that doesn't deter anybody or any of the guys that's coming in to show up every day. We're still working our tails off and everybody who is filling in has been working extremely hard through this camp so far and we're going to continue to do that."
Iman Shumpert appears the next man up to take starting two-guard spot. But James reiterated the need to bring both the Cavs and Smith on the same side.
"We just miss him. We miss having him around. He's a big piece of our team and they just need to get it done," said James.