Lakers add veteran J.R. Smith for Orlando championship push

Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith has joined LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for their championship push. (AP Photo/Scott R. Galvin, File)
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Updated 02 July 2020

Lakers add veteran J.R. Smith for Orlando championship push

  • Smith hasn’t played in the NBA since November 2018, but the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year is a longtime trusted teammate of LeBron James

LOS ANGELES: J.R. Smith has joined LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for their championship push.
The Lakers announced their long-anticipated signing of Smith as a substitute player Wednesday, the first day allowed under the rules of the NBA’s summer restart.
Smith is the Lakers’ roster replacement for Avery Bradley, who cited family reasons last week for his decision not to finish the season with his team in Orlando amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re not going to ask him to come in and be Avery Bradley,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s going to come in and be J.R. Smith. He’s going to just fill that position more than fill that role. Avery’s loss is obviously a huge loss for us, but we’re a next-man-up team. J.R. is going to come in and help fill that need, but we have a lot of guys in that position that can do the same.”
The 34-year-old Smith hasn’t played in the NBA since November 2018, but the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year is a longtime trusted teammate of James. During their four years together with the Cleveland Cavaliers, they won a title in 2016 and reached four consecutive NBA Finals.
“That was a factor, his familiarity with LeBron,” Vogel said. “The way we’ve built our team around LeBron, there’s a lot of similarities to the way they built their team in Cleveland. That definitely is a factor in what we feel like J.R. can bring to the table in what is going to be a very short time to get acclimated.”
Vogel also said the Lakers remain “hopeful and optimistic” that center Dwight Howard will be with the team in Orlando. Howard hasn’t made a final decision while contemplating the welfare of his 6-year-old son, whose mother died earlier this year.
“We don’t know what the level of participation is going to be yet,” Vogel said. “He wants to play. ... We don’t have any intention of replacing Dwight’s roster spot. When we leave (for Orlando next week), he’ll hopefully be able to join us.”
Bradley was a starter and a key role player in his first season with the Lakers, averaging 8.6 points per game with a dependable 3-point shot while playing solid wing defense. But the Western Conference-leading Lakers also excelled while Bradley missed 13 games due to injury, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso capably absorbing the extra minutes.
“We’ve got to fill his role, and it might not be with one person,” Caruso said. “This team has done a great job all year when guys have been out with stepping up and filling in. I’m not sure if I’m going to be the sole provider of everything that Avery did, but I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap.”
Smith is a 15-year NBA veteran, but he has been out of the league since the Cavaliers dropped him early in their first season after James’ move to Los Angeles.
Smith worked out for the Lakers in February before the club instead signed Dion Waiters, who didn’t get to suit up for his new team before the pandemic suspended the season.
“In terms of what (Smith) brings to the table, just the experience factor,” Vogel said. “This guy is 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’s perimeter defense and 3-point shooting fit well into the Lakers’ scheme, even if he is likely to play only a supporting role in Orlando while the Lakers pursue their franchise’s 17th championship.
Smith is ninth in NBA history with 288 career playoff 3-pointers made while hitting 37% of his 3-point shots. He is fourth in league history in NBA Finals 3-pointers made.
“How quickly can we get (Smith) acclimated? I think there’s going to be plenty of time,” Vogel said. “We have a simple system that we hope can be picked up pretty quickly. Our guys picked it up pretty quickly to start this season, and we hope that it’s going to be the same for both Dion and for J.R.”


Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

Updated 30 September 2020

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

  • Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona

MADRID: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will all be hoping to build on their first wins of the season as La Liga heads into its fourth round of games this week.

Here are the five talking points ahead of the midweek fixtures.

For the first time in a long time, Barcelona can enjoy some calm after a 4-0 win over Villarreal in their first match of the season on Sunday.

Lionel Messi scored on his first competitive appearance since attempting to leave in the summer but most exciting was the performance of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who scored twice and won a penalty.

Ronald Koeman must decide how to make the most of the teenager, whose maturity on the pitch belies his age and whose body might not be ready to start every week.

But Fati's pace, movement and decision-making are all so impressive it will be difficult to leave him out, as Barca look to build on that win at Celta Vigo on Thursday.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation during his team's 3-2 win at Real Betis on Saturday as Luka Jovic was deployed up front alongside Karim Benzema.

But the Serbian striker failed to take his chance, instead enduring another underwhelming night before going off with 18 minutes to go.

It remains to be seen whether Zidane persists with Jovic at home to Real Valladolid on Wednesday, or at all, given Madrid could yet decide to let their €60 million (today $70 million) signing leave before the end of the transfer window.

When Eden Hazard regains fitness, that spot next to Benzema will belong to the Belgian so Jovic's window of opportunity may be small. Time would appear to be running out.

Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona.

So hitting six against Granada on Sunday offered some early encouragement that this season's Atletico, boosted by the arrival of Luis Suarez in attack, can put those scoring problems behind them.

Suarez stole the show after scoring twice on his debut but Joao Felix was arguably the biggest plus for Diego Simeone, who will hope the 20-year-old's excellent display is the start of a more consistent campaign.

Atletico go up against newly promoted Huesca on Wednesday, the kind of game they slipped up in too often last season.

Even defeat by Real Madrid could not knock Real Betis off the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini's team enjoy the benefits of a strong start and more games played than the traditional powerhouses three weeks into the season.

But there is cause for optimism longer-term as Betis began with wins against Alaves and Real Valladolid, before matching Madrid for prolonged spells until their opponents pulled away in the second half.

With the likes of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Joaquin, this Betis squad has not lacked for attacking talent but solidity at the back has too often been an afterthought.

Villarreal face Alaves on Wednesday, with pressure already on both coaches. Villarreal have four points from their opening three games but a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday, as well as a draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca means Unai Emery could do with a victory.

Alaves, meanwhile, are second bottom after managing just a point from their first three games, with Pablo Machin seeking a first win at la Ceramica.

Valencia have also made a stuttering start, a draw at home to Huesca on Saturday coming on the back of a surprise loss away at Celta Vigo.

New coach Javi Gracia has already expressed disappointment with the club's summer transfer dealings, meaning credit with the board may be lacking if results do not improve.