JR Smith is now a two-time NBA champion, and he feels fulfilled in his career. Smith recently appeared on CBS Sports' All Things Covered podcast with Patrick Peterson & Bryant McFadden to discuss the difference between his two titles, and why his role on the Lakers in Orlando was especially difficult.
"It's fulfilling for me because it's totally different," Smith said of his second title. "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."
The Lakers signed Smith in July for their postseason push. He knew heading into the situation that his on-court opportunity would be limited, and it was. Smith played just 75 total minutes for L.A. during the playoffs. However, for Smith, the chance to write a new final chapter to the book of his career after he was waived by the Cavaliers in July of 2019 was extremely important.
"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," Smith said of his mindset after he signed with the Lakers. "I knew I wasn't going to come in and play 25 minutes 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.
"More than anything for me, I left the game [after Cleveland] on a bad note. For me, you always hear people say that want to go out a champion. For me, I never wanted to walk away from the game as somebody who got waived. I never wanted that on my resume. But then for it to happen, and for it to potentially be retirement after that, it never sat well with me. So my whole motivation to get back was to be in the situation to win a championship. So when I got in that position, no matter what role they threw at me, that was my main focus."
When reflecting on Smith's career, it's virtually impossible not to talk about LeBron James, as both of his titles were won with James. Unsurprisingly, Smith had some high praise for James, and he sent a not-so-subtle message to MVP voters in the process.
"For so long, so many people have been counting on his downfall," Smith said of James. "Even if you think about the accolades, he could win MVP every single year. But when they go up there to talk about the conversations, he's always the third guy. It's either Giannis or James. Or Russ or James. Or this or that person. And 'oh you could always throw LeBron in there, look at his numbers.' People get so bored with seeing greatness. It's disrespectful to an extent. How can you say he's the best player in the world [every year] and not give this man MVP? I've never understood that. He can go to any team and make a championship run."
James is one of the most talented basketball players of all time, but to Smith, LeBron's leadership is his best asset.
"His biggest attribute is being able to bring everybody together consistently," Smith said. "That's hard to do. To take on a lot of people's energy, or to try to impose your will on 15, 16, 17 dudes who are millionaires and have their own agendas and goals they're trying to reach, it's hard. That's hard to do, man. For me, I think he's just amazing at being who he is and bringing people together. ... He's all about encouraging people around him and encouraging them to put the work in. When you see someone like that at that level working every single day consistently, it's just contagious. He just brings so many people with him. I think that's his best attribute by far."
Towards the end of his appearance on the podcast, Smith was asked which of the two title teams that he played on would win if they squared off against each other, and he pointed to the Lakers' size as the determining factor.
"I think the size that the Lakers have, we just didn't have in Cleveland," Smith said. "In Cleveland, we were more grittier, we played a little harder, we were much nastier defensively. But the size with this Lakers team with [Anthony Davis] and Dwight [Howard], and being able to change the lineups with Markieff [Morris], we just weren't that versatile [in Cleveland]. We could play multiple different ways in L.A., but in Cleveland, we only had to play one way ... I think the Lakers team was just too big."
You can find more episodes of the All Things Covered Podcast here.