When J.R. Smith is hot, he is red hot. But when he is not...
Sixth Man of the Year and New York Knicks super-sub J.R. Smith is careening wildly toward free agency, and the only thing that may keep him loyal to the Orange and Blue is not the chance to play with Carmelo Anthony, but rather, the legendary nightlife in NYC.
The Knicks are restricted in the contract they can offer him because of their salary-cap situation, so any team with cap space that wants to pursue him would likely be able to outbid the Knicks.
We will look at each of these six potential landing spots and evaluate them qualitatively, and based on the off metric of J.R. Smith. He likes to party (just ask Rihanna or Tahiry), so Smith may find it tough to leave the Big Apple unless it's for a more substantial incentive than a few hundred thousand bucks a year. After all, those Milwaukee nights in February can get lonely.
The Knicks own Smith's early Bird rights, so they could offer him 175 percent of last year's salary (which would be just under $5 million) under that provision, or slightly more than the league average (near $5.5 million) under a different provision.
Smith is coming off the finest season of his career, as he functioned as a starter under Knicks coach Mike Woodson, except he spent the first three or four minutes of the game on the bench.
Smith completely changed styles during the season, at one point eschewing the familiar fadeaway jumpers in favor of an aggressive, rim-assaulting mentality that ratcheted up his shooting percentage and resulted in copious foul shots.
Not coincidentally, this change in Smith's game corresponded with the Knicks' 13-game winning streak, and included six straight games in which Smith took at least 10 shots and shot 50 percent or better from the field.
When he's good, he's very, very good. But when he's bad, well, the Knicks lose in the playoffs. Still, the mercurial guard has already kicked off a sweepstakes for his services, and he'll likely be doling out thrills and headaches on one of these six teams next season. Here they are, in order of overall desirability.
Being a Bobcat entails a mix of playing basketball and watching it played.
I cannot think of any reason that J.R. Smith, or any player for that matter, would actively want to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats if they had other options at their disposal.
Yes, I know, they do have Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist anchored at the 1 and 3, respectively, but unless J.R. has little-to-no interest in seeing the postseason again, he should steer clear of a contract with the Cats.
Last year, Charlotte lost 61 games, barely avoiding the ignominious distinction of being the league's worst team by one game (the Orlando Magic seized that honor). The Bobcats ended the season ranked 28th in offensive efficiency and dead last in defensive efficiency.
And don't be even mildly encouraged that they didn't finish last in offensive efficiency (measured by points scored per 100 possessions), because Charlotte also finished last in effective field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage, which both take into account three-pointers and foul shots.
The Bobcats have some promising pieces, but they remain miles away from even approaching contention for the postseason. North Carolina can be a very pleasant place to retire, so perhaps J.R. will want to save his interest in Charlotte for after his playing days are over.
Don't look for Smith to consider a move to Charlotte unless the windfall is substantial compared to all other offers.
This was probably an ill-advised shot. And it probably went in.
The Detroit Pistons were pretty bad yet again last season, but don't be fooled. The franchise has assembled a few promising pieces up in the Motor City, and it could be poised for a run at the playoffs in a year's time.
Detroit boasts a stellar young center in Greg Monroe, who hails from a storied Georgetown program that has produced its fair share of elite NBA pivots. Andre Drummond looks poised to form a dynamic duo down low along with Monroe.
The Pistons have a solid point guard in Rodney Stuckey and a budding star in backup point Brandon Knight. They will try to retain free-agent point guard Jose Calderon, but they clearly have a glut on 1-guards.
But 2-guard is a need for the Pistons, as they started Kyle Singler at shooting guard for much of the season.
Smith could offer a lot of offensive assets to the Pistons, including top-notch athleticism, the ability to create his own shot, proficiency in dribbling and driving, plus a mentality built to take the last shot. Smith could also provide a veteran presence on a young team, though his presence would probably fall far short of any leadership role.
When it comes to J.R., Tayshaun Prince he isn't. But for a team that finished tied for 21st in offensive efficiency, it could certainly use a dynamo like Smith to boost scoring.
According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, "The under-the-cap Pistons have been mentioned as a potential big suitor for J.R. Smith, but a league source said Detroit’s interest isn’t strong."
It doesn't seem like the pursuit of Smith has heated up in Motown yet, but they are building a solid young core up there, and the addition of J.R. would certainly help that along.
J.R. Smith and Ersan Ilyasova could make a hilarious buddy sitcom together.
The Milwaukee Bucks created a formidable backcourt last year when they traded for Monta Ellis and paired him with Brandon Jennings. Then, at the deadline, the Bucks netted J.J. Redick in a swap with the Orlando Magic.
Now, their thrilling backcourt may have been pared from three down to just one, with Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reporting a three-way trade agreed to terms by the Bucks, Phoenix Suns and L.A. Clippers. The sign-and-trade deal will net Milwaukee a pair of second-rounders with Redick becoming a Clipper.
And now Ellis appears ready to walk out the door in Wisconsin as well, with Marc Berman of the New York Post reporting that J.R. Smith is in their sights to potentially replace Ellis:
The Bucks also have reported interest, especially after losing Monta Ellis, who has opted out of the final season of his contract, worth $11 million. The Knicks can only offer Smith a contract starting at $5.5 million. The Bucks had offered Ellis a three-year, $36 million extension, but he declined. The Knicks would be considered more than long shots to sway Ellis for the $3.19 million.
They don't have to have J.R. Smith unless the price is right, but the Bucks definitely need to land someone to bolster their backcourt. Both Monta and J.R. can be prone to heinous shot selection, but both also offer the power of forgetting, as they possess irrational confidence in their jump shot.
The Bucks have seemingly kicked the tires on nearly every single free agent discussed thus far in the infancy of the 2013 free-agency period, but they don't have much to show for it.
Shortly after Tony Allen agreed to terms on an extension with the Memphis Grizzlies, he thanked the Bucks for their interest (via Twitter). Thanks, but no thanks. My guess is that's what Smith's feelings are about signing with Milwaukee, a city hardly known for its nightlife.
UPDATE: Wednesday, July 3, at 8:32 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!, the Knicks are nearing an agreement to re-sign Smith. Terms of the deal are currently unknown, but once the parties hammer out finer details, it appears that Smith will officially be back in the Big Apple next year.
---End of update---
Last season, J.R. Smith took home the Sixth Man of the Year honors. He became the first member of the Knicks to win the award since John Starks in 1997. Unfortunately, New York's front office has an array of decisions before it, and retaining J.R. is far from the only one.
The Knicks have plenty on their plate in this free-agency period, as they will look to re-sign Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin. But in the wake of Jason Kidd's retirement, the Knicks need another guard anyway.
Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Knicks are considering adding Will Bynum, C.J. Watson or Devin Harris to their backcourt. Elton Brand and Lamar Odom have also been targeted to shore up the depth chart up front, with Amar’e Stoudemire as a perpetual question mark.
All things being equal, Smith would prefer to return to the New York Knicks, and not just for the banging club scene available around Manhattan.
Smith grew up not far from the Knicks' arena in nearby Newark, N.J. The team also signed his brother, Chris, for summer-league play last offseason, but waived him after he underwent knee surgery. Smith has ties to the team and the city, but he's also a player who will be 28 years old when the season begins.
And the Knicks would be hard-pressed to forget Smith's abysmal showing in the playoffs last season. In 11 postseason games (an elbow got him suspended for one contest), Smith averaged 14.3 points, but this came on 33.1-percent shooting as the man occasionally know as J.R. Swish hoisted an average of 14.8 field goals per game.
Just a fluke? Well, in the 2012 postseason, he averaged 31.6-percent shooting on 15.2 field-goal attempts per night, so there seems to be a trend developing.
With this free-agency period coming on the heels of receiving his Sixth Man hardware, Smith will look to cash in on a deal from the highest bidder that carries him toward the end of his prime. Though he may wish to stick with the Knicks, the team may not be as eager to have him back and can only re-sign him for a relatively bargain price anyway.
If he leaves, they have draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. and brand-new acquisition Andrea Bargnani to help space the floor in Smith's absence.
Smith guards rookie Jae Crowder somewhat dramatically.
J.R. Smith could have his very own chance to become O.J. Mayo in 2013-14.
The Dallas Mavericks, bereft of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, find themselves at a crossroads this offseason. After rumors circulated about billionaire owner Mark Cuban rebuilding (rebuilding!) after the Mavs missed the playoffs, they are gunning for some big names in free agency this summer.
Last season, Dallas appeared to need better defense rather than better offense, so it's a bit unclear how Smith might help that situation. The Mavs finished 11th in points scored per 100 possessions, but just 20th in points allowed per 100. Smith is an energetic and capable defender who can rack up the steals, but he gambles and is hardly a lockdown on-ball defender.
Of course, Dallas' roster next season could look substantially different, with Shawn Marion, Mayo and others very possibly on the move. And the Mavs are also in on the chase for Dwight Howard, so that could keep the team in a holding pattern for a while as Dwight decides what he feels like doing this week.
Darren Collison and Chris Kaman are also up for unrestricted free agency, so the team's future roster remains very much uncertain. But with Dirk Nowitzki aging, Cuban figures to make a run at one last championship before the gangly German hangs up his jersey for good.
Last season, Dallas tallied the league's sixth-best shooting percentage from behind the three-point line. As other teams in the West, like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, have found success by relying on the three-ball, perhaps the Mavs will trend that way as well.
J.R. Smith can sink shots from way downtown when he's in the groove, and that long-range capability could have Dallas driving hard to corral him.
With Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov splashing the cash on his Brooklyn Nets, Cuban may feel eager to keep pace with his fellow Forbes lister, and he certainly has the resources to blow the Knicks out of the water for their Sixth Man of the Year.
'Hey, don't I know you?'
Hey, remember Linsanity? I still have my t-shirt and foam finger to commemorate it, but I must admit that I snagged them for a total of $6 at the fire sales after he left town. Well, J.R. Smith could be reliving it all over again next season, except it would be down in the Lone Star State.
It's nearly impossible to discern what the Houston Rockets would be willing to do to acquire Smith, as the team has become one of the primary candidates to land the moody Superman himself.
Dwight Howard is still trying to determine where he wants to take his talents next season, and he will likely continue to ponder over that decision long after he initially chooses where to sign a contract. Some people just can't make up their minds, and D12 seems a lot like one of those people.
But whether or not Dwight touches down in Houston next season, a wealth of reasons already exist for Smith to want to join the Rockets. They are a fast-paced, free-shooting team who averaged the highest possessions per game in the league last season, and also tied the all-time mark for three-pointers in a game with 23.
Lots of offense and shooting? That certainly sounds like something you can sign J.R. up for. The Rockets are good now and looked sharp in the playoffs last year, putting a scare into the OKC Thunder. They certainly proved that they are capable of making noise in the West for years to come
Smith would have the chance to play with a budding superstar in James Harden and be surrounded by talented youngsters like Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons.
The only prospective concern for J.R in Houston would be usage and touches. Last season, Smith served as the second scoring option for the Knicks, but in the Rockets' system, Smith might only be one among several rangy shooters deployed by coach Kevin McHale.
It remains to be seen whether Houston's vibrant music scene can sway J.R. more than the roster and shoot-first scheme of its promising young basketball team.