It has been said many times that no player on the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to sacrifice more than Kevin Love.
Love was a star in Minnesota, the guy the entire offense ran through. He was a high scorer too, averaging over 26 points per game twice in his Timberwolf days.
With the Cavs, Love became a “third wheel” behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. His scoring dropping to around 16 points in Cleveland, before climbing to 19 this season.
Many people say Love became a glorified stretch four, a spot up three point shooter.
That’s crazy, of course, but we guess people figured he was going to continue to average 26 points a game with the Cavs, which would be almost impossible.
However, another member of the wine and gold has sacrificed greatly, and it largely goes unnoticed.
When GM David Griffin made the three way deal early in 2016 with Oklahoma City and New York, it was thought Griffin had his eye on Iman Shumpert, a wing defender, who was also athletic enough to run the floor.
Smith was regarded as a throw in on the deal, a player put in to balance the salary cap ramifications, basically (it was said at the time) if you want Shumpert, you have to take Smith.
JR’s reputation was that of a troublemaker. He has tremendous talent. He was sixth man of the year in 2012-13 when he averaged 18.1 points for the Knicks, a season in which New York won their division and lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
As the Knicks fortunes went south, so did Smith’s concentration. He liked the NYC nightlife, his scoring average and shooting percentage dropped, and the Knicks management wanted to unload him.
His reputation on the court was that he never met a shot he didn’t like, and fired the ball up at times to make his coaches grimace.
We remember NBA writers saying at the time of the trade, that when JR is on a good team, he is fully engaged, which will help him with the Cavs, they were a team ready to make a title run.
In game one of the Eastern Conference finals vs. Atlanta, Smith stole home court from the Hawks with an incredible shooting display, scoring 28 points by hitting 8 of 12 from beyond the three point line.
Smith can still knock down shots, but he is the guy Tyronn Lue turns to in stopping the opponents best wing scorer. He did a great job on Paul George in the first round, and gave DeMar DeRozan fits in the conference semifinals.
He had a thumb injury which required surgery this season so his scoring average dropped to under 10 per night (8.6) and his three point shooting fell from 40% to 35.1%.
But he is still a key member of the Cavs because of his defensive prowess, and it doesn’t hurt that fans around northeast Ohio love him. People here don’t care about your past, they judge you on how you treat them.
His emotional reaction to winning the NBA title on Father’s Day a year ago is something we will never forget. He thanked his dad for always standing by him.
So, while Love has certainly subdued his game in order to win, don’t forget how JR Smith has went from a player considered undisciplined to one his coach trusts to do a great job on defense against the top scorers in the NBA.
Sacrifice and unselfishness. Lue and LeBron James always talk about it and Smith is a grand example of what they mean.