Following a prolonged stint on the market as a free agent, JR Smith has been reunited alongside LeBron James for a shot at an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although the Lakers’ interest in Smith were confirmed by a workout at the practice facility months ago, nothing came to fruition until Avery Bradley forced the team’s hand by choosing to sit out of the 2019-20 NBA season restart at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, due to personal reasons.
Smith’s experience playing with James and skill set as a two-way player made him a frontrunner to help fill the void left by Bradley. Regardless, there is still a high-risk, high-reward element to his signing given he has not seen any action since 2018.
The restrictions placed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic provided its own set of challenges for players given the initial uncertainty regarding a return to action. Fortunately, the sense of familiarity with the Lakers helped ease his transition.
“When I first worked out with them I kind of knew what to expect by watching Danny, KCP and Avery. Their system kind of mirrored our system from Cleveland, with LeBron obviously being the primary ball handler and creating plays. From that aspect I kind of knew what to expect,” Smith said of his first workout with the team.
With not having played since 2018, the 34-year-old admitted to falling on personal hardship. “I went through a very depressed state for a long time. It lasted for a few months,” Smith said.
“I’m a big video gamer and I didn’t even want to play 2K anymore. I didn’t want to hoop, didn’t want to work out, didn’t want to play 2K or do anything with basketball. I went through depression because something that I loved and enjoyed for so long was gone.
“It was extremely tough. Fortunately, I’ve got a great foundation with my parents. My dad has always been on me about what I’ve accomplished and still have left in the tank. If it wasn’t for them I would probably still be in that situation.”
It is safe to say that Smith’s perseverance has been rewarded with an opportunity to make a significant impact on a Lakers team with championship expectations. Granted, how large of a role he’ll play remains unclear.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has expressed concern with getting players into basketball-shape and this rings especially true for Smith coming off a prolonged hiatus. Fortunately, being part of such a deep backcourt should help take some of the initial pressure off while he finds his footing in the system.
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