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Lakers News: JR Smith Discusses Challenges He Faced with LA During Title Run

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistOctober 24, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers guard JR Smith (21) controls the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

JR Smith won his second career NBA championship this season, but he played a very different role for the Los Angeles Lakers than he did the Cleveland Cavaliers four years earlier. 

The Lakers signed Smith prior to the season restart to provide depth after Avery Bradley decided to opt out. He appeared in six of the eight regular-season games, but head coach Frank Vogel used him sparingly in the playoffs. 

During an appearance on CBS Sports' All Things Covered podcast (h/t SLAM Online's Deyscha Smith), Smith told hosts Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden this postseason run was "one of the hardest things I ever really had to do" because of his limited in-game involvement:

"It's fulfilling for me because it's totally different. I was playing more during the first one and felt like I had a very important role in the game. In this situation, going through the playoffs and not really playing and trying to find my niche as a leader, as a veteran, trying to help the younger guys out in more of a coaching aspect of it, it was one of the hardest things I ever really had to do.

"I'm really sitting there watching from the sidelines, yelling for guys to be in the right position. It was nerve-wracking. So this one was almost as good as the first one. This two-time thing is feeling pretty good.” 

Smith's signing with the Lakers ended his 19-month absence from the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers announced in November 2018 that he would no longer play for them after being critical of the organization's approach to team-building. 

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"I don't think the goal is to win. The goal isn't to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can," Smith told The Athletic's Jason Lloyd at the time. "I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan."

The Cavs ultimately waived Smith in July 2019. 

Smith told Peterson and McFadden he was more than happy to play whatever role Los Angeles needed from him in order to get back to the NBA:

"For me, it was like no matter what they throw at me, I'm going to accept it and try to be a master of that role. I knew I wasn't going to come in and play 25 minutes a game and stuff like that because I hadn't played in over a year, and they already had their core team set. I knew it wasn't going to be a situation where I was going to come in and play a lot."

Prior to joining the Lakers, Smith had never played fewer than 18 minutes per game during the regular season. He averaged 29.5 minutes per game in 130 playoff games from 2007-18. 

The Lakers limited Smith to 13.2 minutes per game during the regular season. Outside of two blowout wins over the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, Smith didn't play more than 8:42 in any playoff game. The 35-year-old sat out the final three games of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.   

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