The Bucks are among the teams that have some level of interest in J.R. Smith, sources tell Joe Vardon of The Athletic. However, Smith remains under contract with the Cavaliers and an in-season buyout appears unlikely, Vardon adds.
Smith played in just 11 games for the Cavs in 2018/19 before informally parting ways with the team. The 33-year-old said early in the season that he felt as if Cleveland wasn’t trying to win games and expressed a desire to play elsewhere. As a result, he hasn’t appeared in a game since November 19 and has been away from the club, but is still technically under team control after the Cavs failed to find a taker for him at the trade deadline.
While Smith struggled in his limited playing time this season, he’s a career 37.3% three-point shooter and would intrigue some contending teams if he were available at the minimum salary. His current contract situation complicates matters though.
Unlike most players who are bought out by their teams at this time of year, Smith has some guaranteed money on his deal for next season. Only $3.87MM of his $15.68MM salary for 2019/20 is guaranteed, but he probably wouldn’t consider giving up more than about $1MM of the money left on his contract, says Vardon. That doesn’t give the Cavaliers much incentive to make a move, since Smith could still serve as a trade chip this summer.
It’s possible that Smith and the Cavs could reach a compromise and agree to a buyout during the season, but time is running out. In order to retain his playoff eligibility for a new team, Smith would have to be waived by Cleveland on or before March 1. That gives the two sides a little over a week to find common ground.
If Smith and the Cavs don’t agree an in-season buyout, he’ll almost certainly be either traded or waived in the offseason, since it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Cleveland would guarantee his $15MM+ salary for ’19/20.