The biggest question of the New York Knicks' offseason has been answered. As reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post, J.R. Smith will return to the team for the 2013-14 season, after inking a new four-year deal:
As the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Smith was the best player the Knicks had hitting free agency this offseason, but after failing to show up in the playoffs, there were doubts over whether the front office would actually want him back.
Despite his inconsistency, though, this move made a lot of sense for the Knicks. At little over $6 million per year, they are getting a talented scorer in the prime of his career at a discount price.
Smith should continue to produce for the Knicks as their de facto second scoring option, and he has the potential to develop into an All-Star level player over the length of this contract.
Considering how talented and athletic he is, all Smith really needs to do is attack the basket and choose his shots wisely, but that has been easier said than done for him in the past.
Over the last 20 games of the regular season, Smith gave us a glimpse of just how good he can be, averaging 22.5 points on 47 percent shooting, while earning 6.6 free throws per game.
Unfortunately, Smith followed that up by averaging just 14.3 points on 33 percent shooting in the postseason, while finding plenty of time to party between games.
It's a huge risk for a win-now team to rely on such an erratic player for such a huge part of their offense, especially when he isn't a difference-maker on the defensive end.
New York's selection of Tim Hardaway Jr. with the No. 24 pick in the draft does make things interesting, though. Along with a fully-recovered Iman Shumpert, the Knicks now have the personnel to get by on the nights when Smith's shot isn't falling, and won't have to keep him out on the court attempting 15 shots per game.
Along with Smith, the Knicks have also brought back point guard Pablo Prigioni, as reported by Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
Prigioni will get three years and just under $6 million. The third year is a partially guaranteed team option.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) July 4, 2013
Knicks used part of their mini-midlevel to re-sign Pablo. Should still have around $1.75 million left give or take.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) July 4, 2013
After the retirement of Jason Kidd, the backcourt was lacking that veteran presence, but Prigioni can provide that.
More importantly, Prigioni excels on the defensive end and as a playmaker, with the Knicks at their best when he started in the backcourt last season. Including the playoffs, the Knicks were 21-8 with Prigioni in the lineup, and that pretty much says it all regarding his importance to the team.
As far as the rest of their offseason is concerned, the return of Smith satisfies the Knicks' need for scoring. Now that they have Smith, Hardaway and the newly-acquired Andrea Bargnani to pair up with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, there's already more than enough offensive firepower on the roster.
What the Knicks need to target now is defense, rebounding and depth, but it could be difficult to bring all of that in with only $1.75 million and veteran's minimum contracts to give out.
New York should target the likes of Elton Brand and Jermaine O'Neal to help add a defensive presence in the frontcourt, while also looking at players like Matt Barnes to shore up the perimeter.
Despite Prigioni's return, the Knicks will almost definitely need another point guard, as he's more suited to playing off the ball. They won't need a major scorer out of the position, but if they can acquire someone who can penetrate, like Sebastian Telfair or Delonte West with the minimum, that would be great.
The Knicks also have a few interesting players on their summer league team who could compete for a roster spot, headlined by C.J. Leslie, Jerome Jordan and Chris Smith (J.R.'s brother).
Looking even further ahead, both Smith and Prigioni will be on the books in the summer of 2015, although Prigioni's deal will be unguaranteed at that point. They will join Shumpert, Hardaway and Felton on the payroll that year, but the Knicks should still have a good $40 million to spend in free agency, as well as the full mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.
At the end of the day, these are two smart moves by the Knicks. They've re-upped their second-best scorer and an important role player, and have just enough of the mini mid-level exception in tact to add another piece, before moving on to minimum contracts.