Lakers get their man in Smith, but will he make a difference?

Sam Amico

J.R. Smith is officially a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and right now, that's pretty much all we know.

If the veteran shooting guard will actually help the Lakers when the NBA resumes in Orlando ... well, that's another matter.

Smith will again be joining LeBron James after the two were together for the better part of four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just like those Cavs of 2014-18, these Lakers are favorites to come out of their conference and reach the Finals.

Any team with LeBron is that way. And these Lakers have a second star in power forward Anthony Davis, too.

But other than James and Davis, the Lakers are mish-mash of older guys who may or may not be able to handle a long playoff run as support players.

That leads us to Smith.

There's no question he hit some of the most vital shots in Cavs' history, burying some biggies in the third quarter in a Game 7 championship win over the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

He also spent most of his time in Cleveland as perhaps the team's best defender of small forwards and shooting guards. When Smith is locked in, he can lock you down.

No one with the Lakers expects Smith to be an All-World performer. He is merely being viewed as someone to help replace the loss of guard Avery Bradley, who's sitting out the league's return at the end of July.

Along with Smith, the Lakers also have Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and another recent signee in Dion Waiters in the backcourt. LeBron almost always sets up the offense (and shots for himself) as well.

So if Smith takes four or five shots and makes two or three a game, he'll be giving the Lakers just about everything they need on offense.

That's especially true if he has one of those nights where he makes three or four straight in a matter of moments. In Cleveland, he was certainly capable and that was basically his role. At least, it was when he first got there.

That, and leading the way in perimeter defense.

But it's fair to question how much Smith has left. He turns 35 years old in September, which is when the Lakers are expected to be in the throes of the Western Conference playoffs.

And he wasn't very good at the end of his run with the Cavaliers. There were times he awful. He became more known for throwing a bowl of soup at then-Cavs assistant coach Damon Jones than for throwing in 3-pointers.

Who can forget how Cavs fans used to scream and beg coach Tyronn Lue to replace Smith in the lineup?

That defined Smith's last run with James and the Cavaliers in 2018.

Yes, it's been two years since Smith played meaningful NBA games. What's he been doing since? We don't really know. 

What's his training been like? What about his diet? And how has been staying mentally sharp for NBA play?

Now, maybe the answers are that Smith is as ready to roll as any other free agent would be. He's played a lot of basketball at this level, and he undoubtedly understands the tricks of the trade and what's needed in the playoffs.

Then again, he also dribbled out the clock -- as opposed to calling a timeout -- when the score was tied at the end of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. That of course was immediately after Smith grabbed a huge offensive rebound.

It was a great play followed by a brain belch, in just a matter of seconds. As the saying often went among the Cavs, that's just J.R. being J.R. You never knew which one was going to show.

At the start of last season, Smith said all the right things about coming off the bench and being a mentor to the younger players after James left for LA. Smith's promises lasted all of about two days.

After that, his presence became a hindrance -- and the Cavs cut ties after 11 games.

LeBron and the Lakers were well aware of all this before signing Smith, who shares an agent in Rich Paul with James, Davis, Waiters and Caldwell-Pope. Paul and LeBron were instrumental in getting the Lakers to bring in Smith.

We won't know whether it was the right move until play resumes, perhaps until the end of the playoffs. Until then, we can assume J.R. will just be J.R. There will be some good days, some bad and hopefully no soup.

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