J.R. Smith's free agency presents a very real problem for the New York Knicks if he decides to take a walk and join another team, possibly putting them in a spot where they have no way to replace him.
New York has just Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert under contract.
Of those, just Anthony, Chandler, Novak, Felton and Shumpert are poised to be reliable and successful next season.
Going further, Pablo Prigioni has hinted toward going back to Spain rather than returning to New York, while Chris Copeland can be stolen away with no way for New York to match his offer if the New Orleans Pelicans decide that he's worth more than $3.18 million, a possibility according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Sources tell me & @JaredZwerling that Bucks have interest in NYK free agents JR Smith & Chris Copeland. They could outbid NYK 4 both guys— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 27, 2013
With that in mind, New York's main goal this summer must be hanging onto Smith. He may have a problem with judgment at times, but his importance as a scorer cannot be overstated.
In a worst-case scenario, the Knicks could end up losing an additional 30.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, provided Smith, Copeland and Prigioni all go in different directions.
Even worse, with the players currently on its books, New York is not only well over the salary cap, but over the luxury tax line, meaning it can use no more than the minimum mid-level exception in free agency.
So, what are the options for the Knicks should Smith leave? There aren't many.
What New York has to offer free agents is a puny little taxpayer mid-level exception, which is at $3.09 million for the first year with a maximum contract length of four years.
You might be thinking, "Well, the Knicks found a player like Smith at a discount once before, why can't they just do it again?"
Well, Smith was in a unique situation.
New York initially signed Smith after he had been playing in China during the 2011 lockout. New York picked him up with its bi-annual exception (something it isn't privy to anymore now that it's well over the luxury tax line) for the remainder of the season.
Smith was not the same Sixth Man of the Year Award-winning player in 2012 that he was this past season, so he drew a bit of interest around the league, but not enough to persuade him to leave New York.
He re-upped with New York for a bit more money and worked in a player option for this season, just in case he played exceptionally well and another team wanted to give him a multi-year deal.
The Knicks were savvy and just a bit lucky when they landed Smith, and it's not likely to happen again.
So who are some players who have signed for that taxpayer mid-level exception in the past few years? Well, there aren't too many.
In other words, the pickings were slim.
So who could find themselves in that slot this season? There are a few prime candidates that seem capable of helping out the Knicks if Smith were to leave, or even if he were to re-sign.
Nate Robinson is an option after making just over a million bucks last season, as are Francisco Garcia, Mike James, Martell Webster, Daniel Gibson, D.J. Augustin, Leandro Barbosa, Nick Young and possibly Will Bynum.
They are allowed to break the exception up and use it on multiple players (Gibson and Barbosa could be solid grabs), but it might be more valuable to use on one quality player.
As it seems right now, there are a few players who would help the Knicks in their quest for a title that can be had for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. The only problem is that assumption stands only if the new player is an addition to a team similar to last year's.
That would include J.R. Smith.
Another strike of crazy luck would be necessary to dig up another Smith with the money they've got available, so they better hope Smith has eyes for The Big Apple.