Joe Smith passed his physical, signed the final paperwork and walked out onto the floor to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At last.

Traded away, Smith was welcomed back. To him, the six-month separation was an eternity.

"It felt like I've been gone forever," he said after practice.

Smith officially returned on Thursday to the Cavaliers, who signed the 14-year veteran forward to a one-year contract, an addition they hope will be the final piece to bring them an NBA title. Smith bought out his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder for a chance to play again with Cleveland, a team he helped get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.

The Cavs lost the decisive game in Boston, a setback that still haunts Smith, who was traded last summer by Cleveland in the deal that brought All-Star guard Mo Williams over from Milwaukee.

"It's something that I think about often," Smith said of Game 7. "If the ball would have bounced in our favor on the last two possessions, then the outcome could have been different. But unfortunately it didn't. They went on and won and that's something that kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth and that was kind of another key aspect for me.

"I wanted to come back here and try and get that taste out of my mouth."

As luck would have it, Smith's first game in his second stint with the Cavs will be in Boston on Friday night as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference tangle.

"It's going to be a big heavyweight bout," Cavs guard Delonte West said.

The Cavaliers (48-12), who clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night with a win over Milwaukee to raise their home record to 27-1, understand the importance of securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston's ability to host Game 7 may have been the difference in the Celtics (48-14) winning a 17th championship.

If the teams end up with the same record, home court will be determined by the season series, currently tied 1-1. The Cavaliers will host the Celtics on April 12.

"We know what's at stake," Williams said.

Both teams have changed since their last meeting on Jan. 9, a 98-83 win by the Cavs. The Celtics signed guard Stephon Marbury and free agent forward Mikki Moore while the Cavs added Smith to help offset the loss of defensive stopper Ben Wallace, who is expected to miss three more weeks with a broken right leg.

With Marbury and Moore, the NBA champions may be even better than they were a year ago.

"It helps them with their depth," LeBron James said. "Steph and Mikki will help those guys. We'll see how they continue to fit in, but it's good for them."

Smith is good for the Cavaliers, who didn't want to part with him last summer but had no choice if they wanted to get Williams.

After the Feb. 21 trading deadline came and went without him being moved by the Thunder, Smith began to wonder if he would get another chance at a title.

"Things got down to almost the last minute," he said. "I was sitting at home like, 'Is it going to happen, or no?' Not taking anything away from the people in Oklahoma City because they have a great organization and a lot that they're building on, but it's good to be on a team like this now."

Cavs coach Mike Brown likes everything about Smith's game.

"His ability to shoot, his ability to rebound, his leadership and his locker room presence," Brown said. "When you have a player of Joe's caliber, it's irreplaceable."

Other teams expressed in interest in Smith, but the Cavaliers were his first choice because of his familiarity with their system, players and coaches. This was the perfect fit.

"I told my agent it felt like I was in high school again being recruited by colleges," he said. "It's a tough decision to make, but I felt more comfortable coming back here because I was used to the guys. I was here not too long ago. It made it a lot easier knowing that I was welcomed back here by guys that I've been around, been in the locker room with, went to war with, and they appreciated what I did for the team last year."

In 27 regular-season games, Smith averaged 8.1 points and 5.0 rebounds for the Cavs. He played in all 13 playoff games, averaging 6.6 points and 4.6 rebounds.

The easy-going Smith laughed when he was asked if he had any resentment toward the Cavs for trading him.

"I've been traded numerous times," said Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick who has been with nine teams. "If I had hard feelings, I don't know who I would get along with."

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