NBA Playoffs: Has J.R. Smith Earned an Eight-Figure Deal?

Sam QuinnContributor IIIApril 24, 2013

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 02:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks drives past Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on April 2, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I can't believe I'm saying this.

It just feels...wrong.

And yet, there's really no way around this.

J.R. Smith is becoming worthy of an eight-figure-per-year contract. Excuse me while I go throw up.

It's just...he's J.R. Smith. He's not supposed to consistently give you good performances night after night. He's not supposed to play somewhat competent defense. He's not supposed to give up perimeter shots in favor of drives to the basket. Where is the J.R. Smith I used to know?

He's gone. And hopefully, he's never coming back. The current version of Smith is the ultimate sixth man; the kind of player who can be your secondary scorer despite not starting the game because he fits both as a complementary piece to your star (Carmelo Anthony) and as the centerpiece of your offense for short bursts. 

In other words, he's exactly what we wanted Amar'e Stoudemire to be. 

So far in the playoffs he's averaging 17 points per game, and this is a slump. During the Knicks' 13-game winning streak towards the end of the season he averaged more than 23 points per game, and more importantly, more than doubled his shots in the paint. Over the second half of the season he has proven to be the third-most important Knick behind Anthony and Tyson Chandler. 

What do we have to thank for this? Some say it's the coaching of Mike Woodson. Others believe it's because Smith hasn't been partying as much. Maybe he's just found the perfect team for him. No matter what the cause, the Knicks are benefiting wildly from Smith's success.

And this offseason, Smith is going to benefit from it as well. As articulated by ESPN's Jared Zwerling and Ian Begley, New York "can only pay him up to $5 million based on his Early Bird Rights." He has every right to demand $10 million per year or more, and there's probably someone out there who will be willing to pay it.

Objectively, I can't even object. 

But deep down, I worry. What will happen when he gets his money? Will he turn into old J.R. Smith? Will he lose all motivation entirely? These are the kinds of things old J.R. Smith made us think about. They're totally valid concerns. 

Based on his play, Smith has totally earned the massive contract he's probably going to get. And on the surface, I'm thrilled about it—he's absolutely earned it. He just needs to prove that this is the real Smith instead of the one who spent several years getting to know.