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NBA Rumors: Ranking the Likely Destinations for J.R. Smith

Mike ShiekmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2012

NBA Rumors: Ranking the Likely Destinations for J.R. Smith

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    Former Denver Nugget J.R. Smith is returning to America and hitting the NBA free-agent market at the perfect time.

    Multiple NBA teams are in search of an upgrade at shooting guard to make a second-half run this season. According to ESPN LA, the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks have been reportedly in discussion with Smith already, but it seems talks are still up in the air.

    According to Smith’s Twitter description, there are six teams in the mix for his services. All of the teams are in the playoff hunt and can provide significant playing time at the 2 spot.

    Smith had signed a 3 million dollar deal with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China, but he was not allowed to return to the NBA until the Chinese season had ended.

    His off-the-court troubles had also followed him overseas to China. The Zhejiang GM accused him of faking an injury and his sister got in several fights with Chinese fans in the stands. His reputation off the court has been an issue in the past, including a feud with Head Coach George Karl in Denver.

    He did get some good practice in Zhejiang, leading the entire Chinese league with 34.5 points per game, according to Asia-Basket including a 52 point and 22 rebound outburst in December that went viral. 

    Here are the six suitors for J.R. Smith’s services and how they rank in order of the best fit.

6. Indiana Pacers

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    One of the most improved teams from last season, the Indiana Pacers would show the NBA they intend to crash the postseason party by acquiring J.R. Smith.

    The Pacers have built a solid young foundation with leading scorer Danny Granger, second-year player Paul George and All Star center Roy Hibbert.

    Head Coach Frank Vogel has his team playing smothering defense, only giving up a ninth-ranked 92.4 points per game, a seven point improvement from last season. 

    But unlike the other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers lack a superstar like a Derrick Rose, Lebron James or Dwight Howard. Their player with the most playoff experience is David West who was acquired this offseason.

    However, would Smith get minutes on this Indiana team in crunch time? Their starting lineup has played the most minutes of any unit this season. They also post one of the highest efficiency ratings of lineups that have played over 180 minutes.

    Plus, the Pacers have a roster full of character players; their newest additions of West, George and Tyler Hansbrough fit the mold of their no-nonsense organization. Therefore, Smith may be a threat to the young foundation and strong chemistry being built in Indiana.

    Regardless, J.R. Smith’s combination of streaky shooting and playoff resume would help Indiana’s chances of beating a Miami or Chicago in the short term.

5. Orlando Magic

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    J.R. Smith would be a welcomed addition to one of the more offensively troubled teams in the NBA.

    If this season would end today, the Orlando Magic would still play the Atlanta Hawks in the four-five first round matchup, similar to last season.

    But the Magic, starring an unhappy Dwight Howard, average a mere 92.9 points per game this season, almost seven points lower than their average from a year ago.

    Their guard play has not lived up to the bill from recent years. Magic point guard Jameer Nelson has been a shell of his former self this season, averaging career lows in points and field goal percentage.

    The signing of J.R. Smith would bolster the 2 guard position that features three-point specialist J.J. Redick and an aging Jason Richardson. Not a combo to bring home to meet the parents.

    When the Orlando Magic made the NBA Finals in 2009, the lived and died from their ability to score from long range and Dwight Howard's presence inside. Howard is still in Orlando for now, but the offensive efficiency from the outside is lacking.

    Smith would add his career 43 percent field goal percentage the Magic need to complement Howard when he gets double teamed.

    But if Howard is leaving Orlando anyway, there might not be much reason to acquire the shooting guard known for his off-the-court troubles.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Los Angeles Lakers guard play has been lacking compared to recent years, with uninspiring Andrew Goudelock and 3-point specialist Jason Kapono getting significant minutes.

    Lakers Head Coach Mike Brown has gotten his team to buy into his defensive philosophy, but the Lakers lack the scoring punch on the outside to outscore opponents consistently.

    As of this morning, they hold the second-worst offensive efficiency rating amongst Western Conference playoff teams. Considering they have the NBA’s leading scorer in Kobe Bryant, an upgrade at guard is a necessity.

    The Lakers have been rumored to express interest in both Allen Iverson and Gilbert Arenas in the past week. Surprisingly, J.R. Smith may be the safest choice of those three.

    Similar to when Metta World Peace signed with the Lakers , J.R. Smith could be well-behaved as a Laker if he buys into Bryant’s quest for another championship ring. World Peace, though, had the coach Phil Jackson managing egos on the sidelines two years ago.

    In addition, with Bryant firmly entrenched in the 2 guard role, Smith would have to guard some forwards in crunch time to play alongside him. Off the hardwood, a player with a history of off the court troubles might not mesh well with the media-laden, glamour city of Los Angeles.

    Alongside several shot-takers in Bryant, Gasol, Bynum and World Peace, there might not be enough shots for a volume shooter like Smith to get his fill.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    That other team from Los Angeles have been a hotbed for former Denver Nuggets this season.

    Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin have both inked with the Clippers this season, adding a veteran presence to a relatively young team. With Billups now out for the season with an Achilles injury, the Clippers need for backcourt scoring just got bigger.

    Smith’s has the catch-and-shoot abilities to be a formidable cog in this Clipper offense that benefits from a top of open shots, thanks to the post play of Blake Griffin and penetration of Chris Paul.

    Paul would be a calming presence in the backcourt for Smith, similar to Billups when he and Smith were teammates on the Denver Nuggets team that made a Western Conference Finals run in 2008. Reuniting J.R. Smith with his former Nuggets teammate K-Mart in Los Angeles also sounds like an appropriate match.

    The Clippers would then possess two streaky guards who have 40 point games on their NBA resume in Smith and Mo Williams. With Chris Paul feeding them passes, Smith and Williams would be in position to score copious amounts of baskets.

    In addition, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro can sit back and play whichever guard has the hot hand each night.

    The signing of Smith would drastically improve the Clips as 'Lob City' attempts to become more than a gimmick and challenge for Western Conference supremacy.

2. Chicago Bulls

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    With the best record in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls already look like they have the parts in place to make their first NBA Finals since Michael Jordan retired in 1998.

    The Bulls upgraded from Keith Borgans to Richard ‘Rip’ Hamilton this offseason to shore up their guard play offensively.

    Already the number one defensive team in the league, the signing of J.R. Smith would make Chicago a headache on the offensive end. The pairing of Smith and Derrick Rose in the backcourt would be a formidable penetrate-and-kick combination.

    The only knock against a J.R. Smith signing is the potential conundrum in playing Smith or Ronnie Brewer during crunch time. Brewer, the defensive stalwart that guards the opposing team's best player down the stretch, is the 2 guard in the NBA's most efficient lineup that has played over 180 minutes.

    If the Chicago Bulls want to take down the Miami Heat in the postseason, however, they’ll have to exploit Miami’s tendency to give up three point shots. In their seven losses Miami has surrendered about 10 three-pointers a game. In their one matchup this season, a 97-93 loss, Chicago only attempted 11 threes.

    They’ll have to convert more from downtown. J.R. Smith’s three-point prowess would be a ton of help.

1. New York Knicks

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    Jeremy Lin has solved the point guard problem in New York temporarily. But problems still linger with this New York Knicks roster.

    The addition of J.R. Smith could be the volume shooter the Knicks need for a second half run this season.

    Knicks’ forward Carmelo Anthony recently spoke about Smith potentially signing with New York and living in the Big Apple:

    "Yeah, I think so, he's one of those type of players," Anthony told a small group of reporters after the Knicks' win over the Nets on Saturday. "If it happens, it happens and I'll be happy."

    The shooting guard spot continues to be a mystery alongside their star-studded frontcourt of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.

    Between rookie Iman Shumpert, and second-year guard Landry Fields, the Knicks guards combine for three years of experience and neither rank in the top 30 in John Hollinger’s PER standings.

    In addition, three-point shooting has been a significant area of concern for the Knicks. The team ranks third in the NBA in three-point attempts, but their three-point percentage is at a lowly 25th.

    The stats tell the story of a conflict between system and personnel. Coach Mike D’Antoni encourages his team to shoot from long range by any means, but the current roster of Knicks’ shooters cannot execute at a high rate.

    Enter J.R. Smith. 

    The streaky shooter has shot 37 percent from three-point land for his career and Coach D’Antoni would give him the green light whenever the ball touches his hands. He would see a ton of open looks to bailout Lin-Amar’e pick and rolls and when Carmelo gets double-teamed. 

    The Knicks can also offer Smith the largest paycheck of the bunch, with their 2.5 million mini mid-level exception still available.

    Even if it’s not all about the Benjamins, the New Jersey native would fit right in playing in New York City.

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