It’s been all smiles for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert since they were traded out of New York and partnered with LeBron James in Cleveland.
OAKLAND – LeBron James and Stephen Curry — league MVPs, past and present — obviously will dominate much of the discussion when the NBA Finals finally commence between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
But the local flavor is undeniable, as well, as former Knicks J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are riding shotgun alongside James in search of a championship barely five months after Phil Jackson dumped them for almost no return in January.
“It’s a dream come true, to be in the Finals and be in this situation,” Smith said before Cleveland’s practice on Wednesday. “Going from the worst team to the best team, or one of the best teams, it’s unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words.
“But we talk about it often. We just hope we make the best of the situation…You have to take advantage of it.”
Smith and his Jersey-based family typically haven’t missed many chances during Cleveland’s playoff run to tweak Jackson and the Knicks for jettisoning him.
The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year revealed following the Cavs’ sweep of Atlanta in the previous round last week that his mom had quoted Drake and joked to him that night of his rise from also-ran to first-time finalist as “talk about ‘started from the bottom, now we’re here.'”
Smith also gloatingly posted earlier in the playoffs on his Instagram account sets of photos of himself and Shumpert wearing both Knicks and Cavs uniforms, beneath the caption “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Asked on Wednesday if that post meant he felt “discarded” by the Knicks, Smith replied: “Absolutely. People started saying ‘you’re just a throw-in in the trade just to get you off the books, and then we come here and thrive, I think that’s absolutely how I feel.”
Shumpert, who figures to draw the primary assignment of guarding Curry with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving nursing multiple injuries, added that he feels “blessed” for the opportunity to play “on the big stage” of the Finals.
“All summer, you’re working and working, and you’re on the Knicks, and we’re not doing as well as we wanted to do, and it seems like everything is going downhill,” Shumpert said. “Everything you worked for is getting thrown away, and you’re thinking ‘what did I do wrong?’
And then I was blessed to be traded to this situation. And now we have a chance to compete in the Finals.
“When you lose that many games (with the Knicks), you’re just happy to be a part of winning again. And you don’t take anything for granted.”
Led by Curry’s 23.8 points per game, Golden State won a league-high 67 games under first-year coach Steve Kerr – who turned down an offer from Jackson last summer to coach the Knicks — during the regular season.
Shumpert will face the tall task of defending this season’s MVP Stephen Curry.
They have lost just three times at home all season, postseason included, en route to their first trip to the Finals since their 1975 championship season.
Smith and Shumpert have emerged as key reasons that James – who is playing in his fifth consecutive Finals after playing the previous four years (with two titles) in Miami – and the Cavaliers are 12-2 this postseason, despite the absence the past two rounds of star forward Kevin Love. The city of Cleveland hasn’t won a title in the four major sports since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
Irving missed two games in the previous round with knee and foot injuries, but he said Wednesday he’s “just going to go out there and will myself to play.”
Golden State’s Klay Thompson also is expected to start in Game 1 after suffering a concussion in the Warriors’ Game 5 clincher last week against Houston.
“I had some nagging headaches that night, but when I got some good rest I was all right,” Thompson said. “So I really knew that Game 1 was never in jeopardy.”
Prediction: Warriors in 7.
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