On the first night of the Los Angeles Lakers’ arrival to the NBA bubble in Orlando, FL, newly signed J.R. Smith took to Instagram Live to give his followers a behind-the-scenes look into what players were experiencing. He lightheartedly criticized everything from his view of the parking lot from his hotel room to the size of the blanket the NBA provided, pointing out that it was too small for most NBA players who are well above average height. He questioned how players were expected to stay healthy with the bags of candy that were placed as snacks in each players’ room. He went on to show his teammates in the hallway simultaneously grabbing their first meal and ran through the dinner menu. Before long, Smith shared with his captive audience that he was instructed to shut it down.
“Aw man, they mad at me bro,” Smith said. “I’m gone. Just got the text. Exposing too much sh*t. Gotta go. My bad. My bad.”
The spirited, yet short-lived performance by Smith on Instagram proved that he will fit in seamlessly among his new social media savvy teammates. Lakers’ center, Dwight Howard, has been on Instagram Live nearly every day interacting with fans and fellow big man, JaVale McGee launched a YouTube vlog showing what life is like inside the bubble.
As the Lakers explored free-agent options to replace Avery Bradley after he opted out due to family concerns, the focus was on adding a replacement who could add depth, play alongside LeBron James, shoot the ball, and play wing defense. Enter J.R. Smith as Bradley’s replacement, who won a championship with James in Cleveland in 2016.
No one can forget Smith’s infamous blunder in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Warriors, when he forgot how much time was on the clock. On Friday’s Zoom call with reporters, Smith detailed how James has grown since the last time they played together with the Cavaliers.
“I’d say more than anything, he’s more patient now,” Smith described James. “I think when he was younger, he had that more of a shorter fuse with things I would say.
“I just think he’s more relatable and easier to get along with,” Smith continued. “Before, he was always so focused on his drive and winning and stuff like that, but I feel like that pressure is kind of off his shoulders, and he can just be him.”
Smith expressed no qualms, however, about challenging James when needed.
“It’s just a good balance, I think, between myself and him, because he knows just as well he can challenge anybody else, I’ll challenge him, and vice versa,” Smith told the L.A. Sentinel.
Smith adds a veteran presence with ample playoff experience. With 15 years in the NBA under his belt, Smith has made 11 playoff appearances and been to the NBA Finals four times. Smith was an impact player for Cleveland, especially in the postseason. He averaged 11.3 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from the field through four seasons and is ranked sixth among active players in 3-point field goals made.
Lakers’ coach, Frank Vogel continued to sing Smith’s praises and mentioned that he was impressed by Smith’s ability to stay in basketball shape since he last appeared in an NBA game in November 2018.
“It’s clear that he’s done a remarkable job of keeping himself in shape and staying ready,” stated Vogel. “His nickname is Swish for a reason. He’s a shot-maker.
“In terms of what he brings to the table: the experience factor. This guy’s a big-time player. He’s proven it over the course of his career. We know he can help us. We almost added him earlier in the year when we added Dion Waiters, and now we have the luxury of having both.”
Smith worked out for the Lakers back in March and instead, they signed Dion Waiters to fill the open roster spot. Vogel expressed that Smith had a great workout for the team and that the team nearly signed him but thought that Waiters would immediately fit into the system. Waiters had not played a game for the Lakers when the season shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.
“They both bring toughness and swag. Those guys are killers,” Vogel said of Smith and Waiters. “They go after it with a great competitive spirit and they have the talent to back it up and be highly productive on the court. They’ve proven that throughout their careers.”
Waiters was recently asked how it felt to play with both James and Smith after a trade back in 2015 sent Waiters from the Cavaliers to the OKC Thunder and Smith to the Cavaliers. When Waiters fielded the question, Smith immediately barked from the sideline, “Stop trying to start sh*t.”
It is this type of unabashed response that continues to make Smith one of the few straight shooters in the NBA. On the court, Vogel said that his plan is to integrate both guards into the rotation, but he is undecided on how many minutes they will play in Orlando.
Smith has mentioned multiple times that he is just soaking up his time being back in the NBA after such a long hiatus.
“I went through a very depressed state for a long time,” Smith admitted. “It lasted for a few months where I’m a big video gamer and I didn’t even want to play [NBA]2K anymore. I didn’t want to hoop. I didn’t want to workout.
“For being somebody who has been around the league predominately for most of their adult life, when that’s kind of taken away from you, it kind of gives you that culture shock and you obviously don’t understand what you lost until it’s gone,” said Smith. “So, for me, more than anything, I just want to appreciate the moment for what it is, and whether it be next year or never again, I just want to enjoy every possible moment that I get.”
On July 30, Smith will don the No. 21 jersey when the Lakers play in their first game against the Los Angeles Clippers to kick off the restart of the NBA season. Similar to his Instagram Live on the first night of the bubble, the world will be tuned in.