OAKLAND, Calif. - Kneeling on his left leg and parked next to LeBron James a step behind the three-point arc while the Cavaliers were stretching, J.R. Smith motioned to someone underneath the basket to roll the ball in his direction.
Smith knew this was the perfect opportunity to show off his range and shooting skills, so he let one loose on a bended knee, watching it closely as it sailed toward the bucket. Sure enough, it swished through the net at Oracle Arena, a trick shot that probably would've made the original Harlem Globetrotters proud.
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James simply chuckled.
Smith, along with another former Knick Iman Shumpert, was having fun and looked nothing like someone who's about to be immersed in a real pinch-me moment later Thursday night. Just five months after the Knicks shipped the duo out of town, Smith and Shumpert are in the NBA Finals against the Warriors and couldn't be more thrilled with how rapidly their fortunes have changed.
"It's a dream come true, to be in the Finals, to be in this situation," Smith said Wednesday. "I mean, going from the worst team to one of the best teams is unbelievable. It's hard to put into words. We talk about it often and we just hope we make the best of the situation."
Particularly since Smith remains miffed at the Knicks, believing they discarded him like rubbish. In unloading Smith and Shumpert, the Knicks only got back three players with non-guaranteed contracts and a 2019 second-round pick.
Smith hasn't forgotten and made his thoughts crystal clear recently when he wrote on his Instagram page that "one man's trash is another man's treasure."
He is still subscribing to that theory as the Cavaliers try to end Cleveland's 51-year pro sports championship drought.
"Yeah, absolutely," Smith said. "Saying you're just a throw-in and a trade just to get you off the books, and then we come here and thrive. I think that's absolutely how I feel."
Smith and Shumpert have flourished during their short time with the Cavaliers, contributing heavily in a postseason run that's paved the way for James' fifth straight appearance in the Finals. Putting the two-game suspension behind him for elbowing Celtics forward Jae Crowder in the face in their first-round series and accepting his role off the bench since that incident, Smith is getting it done. In these past eight games as a reserve, he averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 31.4 minutes and shot a blistering .459 from the three-point line.
Shumpert stepped into Smith's startling spot alongside Kyrie Irving, and has posted 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds through 14 postseason games. Shumpert, who missed the first eight games following the trade nursing a dislocated left shoulder, said it took him about a month and a half to find his comfort zone.
"It was different. It was a challenge," Shumpert said. "But the guys on the team as well as the coaching staff made it a pretty easy transition for me. They just simplified my role and once I was able to accept and embrace it, I was pretty good."Smith credited James with smoothing things over for him following his first game with the Cavaliers on Jan. 7.
"I didn't want to be the guy out there shooting the shots that quote-unquote I'm normally shooting, and people think they are bad shots and stuff like that," Smith said. "So I wanted to be the ultimate teammate. So at the same time, LeBron told me just go out there and be yourself, this is the reason why we got you. And after that, it as so much easier to play."