Smith was traded to Cleveland in January along with Iman Shumpert by the Knicks. He averaged 12.7 points over 46 games with the Cavaliers, shooting 42.5% from the floor and 39% from three-point range, but volatile Smith was involved in some incidents that magnified an already difficult first year as the Cavaliers’ coach for Blatt.
Smith was suspended two games for punching the Celtics’ Jae Crowder in the first round of the playoffs and averaged only 11.5 points over six NBA Finals games while shooting 31.2% from the floor and 29.4% from three-point range.
“First things first, before we get into basketball, coach really cares about me as a person,” Smith said to Northeast Ohio Media Group. “That’s one of the first coaches I’ve had that actually cared about me off the court more than on the court, so it was that much easier for me to play for him and give my all because I know he cares about me as a person.
“When you have someone like that behind you it’s so much easier just to play. I’d run through a brick wall for coach.”
Blatt, who guided the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference’s second-best regular-season record at 53–29 and to the NBA Finals before losing to the Warriors, nonetheless endured questions about his ability to manage Cleveland’s chemistry. He, however, echoed Smith’s positive comments.
“From Day 1, I was very hopeful and I think we all were, that J.R. would be here,” Blatt said to Northeast Ohio Media Group. “There’s things that go on in terms of contract negotiations that are maybe a little beyond me, number one, and number two, sometimes outside of the realm of professional matters. But I think it was everyone’s strong desire that J.R. be with this team going forward and fortunately in the end, that’s the way it worked out.”