News broke on Sunday that the Celtics are interested in signing Cleveland Cavaliers free-agent shooting guard J.R. Smith. The impetus of the report comes from a Frank Isola article in the New York Daily News. The article mentions that Smith would add some scoring punch to the Celtics’ second unit. It also mentions that Boston has approximately $9 million in cap space to sign Smith.
First, Smith would be a wonderful addition to the Celtics. Not only would he add proven shooting and scoring off the bench, but it would also hurt the Cavaliers. Given the Celtics are chasing the Cavs in the Eastern Conference, anything they can do to hurt Cleveland would be helpful. Smith would arguably be Boston’s best three-point threat, and his veteran experience and moxie would be welcome additions to what is still a fairly young team.
However, the rub is that Boston doesn’t have anywhere near the requisite amount of cap space to sign Smith and not even close to the reported $9 million. The Celtics are currently over the cap by about $3.4 million. The maximum amount of cap space the Celtics can get to without a trade is approximately $1.1 million. To get there Boston has to waive Ben Bentil, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones and Damion Lee (while also paying out each player’s guaranteed amount). They would also have to agree not to sign either Guerschon Yabusele or Ante Zizic this season, which allows the team to remove their cap holds as first-round draft picks.
Boston does have the Room Exception available to them at the amount of $2,898,000.00. But neither $1.1 million nor $2.9 million are enough to sign Smith. The Cavs have already offered Smith more money than that, and he’s rejected it.
As fun as it would be to have Smith in green and hurt Cleveland at the same time, it is highly unlikely the Celtics can clear enough cap space to make a serious run at him. The most likely scenario is that the Cavaliers and Smith come to a mutually beneficial agreement to get him back to Cleveland. The Cavs have tax concerns, and whatever they sign Smith for will only add to that bill, but Dan Gilbert isn’t breaking up the town’s first title team in ages over money. And LeBron James wants Smith back. In Cleveland, we all know what LeBron wants, he usually gets.