CLEVELAND — LeBron James, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers spent the last month lobbying for their friend and teammate J.R. Smith to get rewarded for his role in their championship run last season.
Eleven days before they begin their title defense, Smith finally got the deal he wanted.
The shooting guard announced on Friday night that he has agreed to terms with the Cavs. A person with knowledge of the contract told The Associated Press it’s for four years and $57 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the package has not been signed.
“We are extremely happy and proud to say we have agreed to terms to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, AKA the champs. AKA my brothers,” Smith announced in a video posted on Uninterrupted.com.
The 31-year-old Smith was a major contributor last season when the Cavs rallied in the NBA Finals to beat Golden State. He averaged 12.4 points and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers in 77 games, using his shooting and defense to play a crucial role in helping the Cavs become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
He hit two big 3-pointers in Game 7 to help the Cavs come back from an eight-point deficit and deliver Cleveland its first sports championship in more than 50 years.
As important, the wild child has played with a maturity and dependability since teaming up with James that simply wasn’t there for much of his career. There have not been the off-court distractions in Cleveland that plagued Smith at other stops, with James calling him “a model citizen” earlier in the preseason.
James didn’t hide his eagerness to see the Cavaliers lock Smith up and give him a shooting guard who can stretch the floor and play strong defense. The superstar said two weeks ago that the Cavaliers “just need to get it done.”
Smith’s deal, which was first reported by ESPN, guarantees him more than $45 million in the first three years of the deal, the $15 million per season he was looking for when negotiations opened this summer. If he stays for four seasons, he will get $57 million.
“It’s been a long road. I appreciate everyone sticking with us through this rough patch of time,” Smith said on the video. “I know the holdout and everything has been long and tedious for everybody. But it’s extremely huge for us and we’re happy to be a part of the Cleveland family.”
The process played out similarly to Tristan Thompson, who is also represented by Klutch Sports, last year. Thompson stuck to his demands all the way until Oct. 22 before agreeing to a five-year, $82 million contract. The patient approach has become a hallmark of Klutch, led by James’ longtime friend Rich Paul and with the contract terms negotiated by Mark Termini.
In 2014, Klutch client Eric Bledsoe went through months of negotiations with the Phoenix Suns before signing a five-year, $70 million deal in late September that was the largest for a restricted free agent that offseason.
The Cavaliers were playing a preseason game in Chicago on Friday night, though James, Love, Kyrie Irving and most of the team’s regulars did not make the trip. Smith will have one preseason game to get back into the swing of things, on Tuesday against Washington in Columbus, Ohio. Cleveland opens the regular season at home against the New York Knicks on Oct. 25.
The contract wasn’t the only big news Smith had on Friday.
“Oh yeah and one more surprise,” Smith said. “We’re having another baby!”
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.