Smith and James played together on the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2015 to 2018. During that time, they made four consecutive Finals appearances and broke the city of Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. While James had a bigger role in that than anyone, Smith was also a steady force for the Cavaliers in the postseason, averaging 10.2 points per game on 40.6% shooting from 3-point range (493 attempts). As a matter of fact, Smith is ranked fifth among active players in postseason 3-point field goals (288).
It’s been two years since James or Smith have played in a playoff game — or played on the same team — but James is confident that they’ll be able to pick up from where they left off with the Cavaliers. In an Instagram post on Wednesday, James expressed how excited he is to be reunited with Smith.
It might be unrealistic to assume that Smith, at the age of 34, will be the same player he was during the Cavaliers’ championship runs — especially since he hasn’t played in almost two years — but he can feasibly provide the Lakers with reliable 3-point shooting and shot-making, which is more than most of the team’s reserve guards can say. In his last full season, Smith shot 37.5% from behind the arc on 4.8 attempts per game.
He also has more experience playing with James than anyone on the team, which Lakers head coach head Frank Vogel said played a part in the team’s decision to sign Smith.
“That was a factor: his familiarity with LeBron and the way we built our team, obviously around LeBron,” Vogel said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of similarities to the things they did in Cleveland. That definitely is a factor in what we feel J.R. can bring to the table in what is going to be a very short time to get acclimated.”
The Lakers are in a position to compete for a championship this season, and Smith knows what it takes to win at the highest level. After all, he did it just three years ago.
Yes, he made arguably the biggest mistake any player has made in NBA Finals history in 2018, but that mistake shouldn’t define him. If James can look past Smith’s past, Lakers fans can too.