Over the course of the offseason, there have been a few signs that Smith's days in New York might be numbered, and that could help the team's hopes of lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.
When the Knicks selected Tim Hardaway Jr. with the No. 24 pick in the draft, it seemed like he could be a possible replacement at shooting guard. Smith, however, was re-signed anyway, which didn't make a lot of sense.
You could make the argument that Hardaway was simply an insurance policy in case Smith left in free agency, but after telling ESPN that he wanted to retire as a Knick, it was almost inevitable he would re-sign if offered a reasonable contract.
With Smith back on the team and Iman Shumpert already there, Hardaway is unlikely to get many minutes at shooting guard, making him a somewhat futile pick. Even long-term, the Knicks are unlikely to use him with Shumpert and Smith both signed until at least 2015.
Again, it could be argued that Hardaway was simply the best player available on the Knicks' draft board, but considering that they passed up on the likes of Tony Mitchell, Isaiah Canaan and Jamaal Franklin—all of whom appeared to be better prospects and better fits with Smith on the team—that surely can't be the case.
With all that in mind, it sounds like New York could be planning to trade Smith for an upgrade at another position, with Hardaway (and an improved Shumpert) replacing his scoring at shooting guard.
Like Smith, Hardaway is an athletic, offensive-minded 2, and has all the makings of a replacement if he can adjust to the NBA quickly. Hardaway won't score 18 points per game, but if Smith's shots are distributed between Hardaway, Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire and new addition Andrea Bargnani, there's a good chance they'll be able to get them more efficiently.
Had the Knicks simply let go of Smith in free agency, they would have gotten nothing in return, but signing him to a very reasonable $6 million per year deal means he can be used as an attractive trade chip at the deadline.
Even the addition of Beno Udrih in August points to a possible trade.
The Knicks now have three good point guards in Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Udrih, but the only way they can all get minutes is if one plays off the ball—which won't be possible with Shumpert, Smith and Hardaway all looking for playing time at the same position.
Making a big trade in the middle of the season doesn't seem like a particularly smart move for a team with title aspirations, but we must remember that Smith will be missing training camp with an injury anyway, so chemistry will be an issue either way.
Smith will be out with this injury and a suspension to start the season, which gives the Knicks a chance to see if they can survive offensively without him. If they can, it won't be surprising to see him gone by February's deadline.
New York is a relatively deep team all around, but trading Smith could bring back a quality backup for Tyson Chandler, a strong defensive wing player or even an upgrade at point guard if he's packaged with Raymond Felton and/or future draft picks.
It's no sure thing that New York will get a good offer for Smith, but that's OK—they aren't in a position where they absolutely have to trade him. After showing they can play at a high level with him, they're the team with the leverage.
Interest in acquiring Smith may waiver after his performance in the playoffs and trouble this offseason, but there should be at least a few teams interested in acquiring the reigning Sixth Man of the Year on such a good contract.
If a contending team needs scoring at the deadline or wants a short-term replacement for an injured player, bringing in Smith would make a lot of sense. His salary doesn't take up much cap room and, according to the NY Daily News, the Knicks have already paid for half of his contract.
Furthermore, Smith will only be in town until 2016 at the latest, and that could be earlier since the third year of his deal is a player option.
Trading Smith to an Eastern Conference rival would be a questionable move, but there are two teams out West who could be potential suitors.
After losing James Harden in 2012 and now Kevin Martin, the Oklahoma City Thunder could use some scoring at shooting guard. While Smith isn't as efficient, the asking price makes it a fair compromise.
At the moment, the Thunder are hoping Jeremy Lamb can take on their sixth-man role, but if he shows he's still not quite ready it would make sense to bring in Smith as an alternative.
In return, the Knicks could ask for Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and a draft pick, giving them another defensive specialist and an experienced center behind Tyson Chandler while also helping to replenish the stock of picks they've given up over the years.
Out in Memphis, the Grizzlies could also be interested in J.R. as they don't have too much offense coming out of their guard position. The Knicks could make a move for Tayshaun Prince and a draft pick, or even make a run at acquiring Mike Conley if they can build a good enough package around Smith.
As an Early-Bird signing, Smith can't actually be traded until January, but that gives the Knicks just enough time after his rehab to showcase him to other teams, who'll want to make sure his knee is healthy before pulling the trigger.
The Case for Keeping J.R.
While the Knicks have certainly given themselves the flexibility to trade Smith with such a reasonable salary and the addition of Hardaway, it doesn't necessarily mean they have to.
As it stands, New York isn't in desperate need of an upgrade elsewhere on the court, so if the right trade doesn't present itself, they can comfortably move on with Smith in tow.
While consistency is still an issue, Smith is still a very good player, who was unstoppable at times late in the regular season. If the Knicks can get that level of play out of him more often, it would make sense to keep him.
There's also no guarantee that Hardaway, Udrih and Shumpert will be able to replace his scoring at shooting guard. In those five-plus games that Smith will be missing to start the season, the Knicks will be taking a close look at how they perform without him, and may find that the points are harder to make up than expected.
If that's the case, Hardaway's presence on the team will simply be to provide competition for Smith, making sure he works for his minutes and giving the team an alternative on the inevitable cold shooting nights.
It's also possible that the Knicks may trade Smith in the summer, pairing him with one of their big, expiring contracts (Stoudemire, Bargnani and Chandler) to hopefully bring in another star and convince Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York.
At this point, it's hard to tell what the Knicks' exact plans are with Smith, but that's the beauty of the signing. They've taken a situation where they had no choice but to bring back a player and given themselves a ton of trade flexibility instead.
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