New York Knicks: 8 Reasons Fans Should Be Happy to See J.R. Smith Back Long-Term

Ciaran Gowan@@CiaranGowanContributor IIIJune 26, 2012

New York Knicks: 8 Reasons Fans Should Be Happy to See J.R. Smith Back Long-Term

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    Having picked up J.R. Smith on a one-year deal following the completion of his season in the Chinese Basketball Association, one of the biggest questions for the New York Knicks this offseason was whether or not Smith would choose to accept his player option to keep him in New York for a second season.

    As Howard Beck of the New York Times reports, Smith has decided to decline his player option but intends to re-sign with the Knicks long-term.

    If Smith does as expected and follows through with his plan to stay with the Knicks, he has himself two options contract-wise.

    First, Smtih could decide to sign a one-year deal worth 20 percent of what he was slated to earn this coming season ($2.8 million in total, which wouldn't count against the mid-level exception), and could then re-sign with the team long-term for a value closer to $5 million-per-year prior to the 2013-14 season, by which time the Knicks will have his early-Bird rights.

    Alternatively, Smith could choose to sign his long-term contract now, giving him the chance to earn a total of $12.2 million over the duration of a four-year contract.

    Whichever route Smith chooses to take, the Knicks should be happy to have him back for the long-haul, and I'm going to take you through eight reasons why.

He's Young

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    Having been in the NBA since 2004, it certainly feels like J.R. Smith has been around for a while, but even as an eight-year veteran, he's still a very young player.

    Smith is actually only 26, and though he has a lot to learn in terms of playing team basketball, he's still young enough for those changes to take place.

    The high school draftee has been steadily improving so far in his career, and for one so talented, there's still a chance that he could be a star—or at the very least a key player—in the NBA.

    To me, that's something worth taking a $2.8 million risk on, especially if that value doesn't count against the mid-level exception.

    Smith's youth also makes him very useful to the Knicks in terms of playing time, as he's fully capable, at his age, of playing big minutes throughout the regular season and playoffs without tiring too much or risking a major injury. The same can't be said for a lot of his potential replacements in free agency, like Ray Allen and Michael Redd.

    His NBA experience will also allow him to play more minutes than a rookie, as he's well past his his adjustment period in the league and is ready to contribute right now.

He's Cheap

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    Whether you like J.R.'s game or not, the fact of the matter is that he could sign for a lot more money elsewhere if he wanted to.

    For him to stay here for under $3 million next season is, frankly, a bargain.

    The New York Knicks are a top-heavy team in terms of salary, and that's putting it lightly, so filling the bench with players of Smith's quality for such a low price is a necessity if this team is to become a title contender.

    Smith hasn't even hit his prime yet, and if he makes good of his talent, that $2.8 million will be looking a lot more disproportionate to his value (in a good way) in the near future.

He Plays Defense

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    Though he has a reputation as a player who plays little-to-no defense, J.R. Smith managed to completely turn things around on the defensive end last season.

    From day one, in a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Smith played tough perimeter defence against anyone and everyone he faced. That's a huge reason as to why Mike Woodson gave him so many minutes every night.

    As a somewhat streaky shooter at times, it's important that a player like Smith can contribute to the team in other ways when he's not scoring, and playing defence the way he did last year is a great way of doing so.

    Seeing as the majority of his previous criticism revolved around his refusal to show up defensively, this new-found drive on that end of the floor really changes things.

He Can Create His Own Shot

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    Outside of Steve "Novakaine" Novak, the Knicks really struggled from outside the arc last season, and they'll be looking to add some good spot-up shooters this offseason.

    And if there's anything more valuable than a spot-up shooter, it's a shooter who can also create his own shot.

    J.R. Smith is one of these, and players like himself and Jamal Crawford are a real luxury to have come off the bench.

    Though good point guard play is always helpful for shooters, Smith doesn't necessarily need it to get his job done, so when he's spending minutes with the back-up or if Jeremy Lin is out injured, the Knicks will still be able to rely on him to get three points when it's needed.

He Never Loses Confidence

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    A lot of fans view J.R. Smith's constant shot-taking as a negative, but in a way, it also comes with it's benefits, too.

    Now, I'm not trying to say that Smith doesn't need to tone it down a bit—he does—but there's something to be said about players who have faith in their ability even after a bad game.

    Just look at Landry Fields.

    After a string of poor performances in the 2011 playoffs, Fields was unable to bounce back in 2011-12, and though he's an undoubtedly talented player, he hasn't really looked like himself since.

    Fields simply lost confidence in his jump shot, and when even he doesn't expect that ball to fall through the net, you know it's not going down.

    As for Smith, you often see him bounce back from some poor play within the same game, and he's always on form by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.

His Relationship with Mike Woodson

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    As I hinted on the last slide, J.R. Smith does need to play a little smarter offensively, but his relationship with head coach Mike Woodson shows that he's more than willing to learn and correct himself.

    Often times during games, you'll see Woodson and Smith going over things on the sideline, and you can just tell that he's taking in everything said to him, mainly because you'll then see Smith come out and play like a different player afterwards.

    A lot of NBA players are too selfish and egotistical to respect the word of their coaches, but if Smith is willing to learn from Woodson, then things can only get better for him and the Knicks.

His Relationship with Carmelo Anthony

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    Like it or not, Carmelo Anthony is the star of this Knicks' team, and it's 'Melo whos owner James Dolan wants this team built around.

    For a player as notorious for stopping the offensive flow as Anthony, it's important that he's surrounded by players he trusts, so he's willing to relinquish possession when they've got a better chance of scoring.

    Having played with him for six seasons now—and scoring in double-figures in each and every one of them—Smith is a player that Anthony trusts, and that can only help things when they're out on the court together.

    In his first press conference with the Knicks, Smith said that his relationship with 'Melo—the godfather of his two daughters—"sealed the deal" with him coming to New York, and that just shows how close the two are to each other.

The Mid-Level Exception Can Be Used Elsewhere

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    Not only is Smith a cheap option for the Knicks, but he's also a shooting guard, which would've been a huge need for the Knicks this offseason.

    The Knicks will still need one more two-guard, but now that they're able to keep a hold of J.R. long term, they can use the bulk of the mid-level exception to fill some more pressing needs.

    A back-up point guard and a back-up forward will go a huge way to improving this roster for the 2012-13 season, and now that Smith is coming back without needing to use the mid-level exception, the Knicks are primed to pick up at least one of these in free agency and the other in the draft.