Ideal Landing Spots for NBA Free Agent JR Smith
After sitting out most of last season and this summer, JR Smith is finally done with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Cleveland "had been attempting to move Smith all the way up until the 5 p.m. ET waiver deadline [Monday]" before officially making him a free agent.
Smith, of course, won a title with the Cavs in 2016. He led that team in threes made in the regular season, the playoffs and the NBA Finals.
But Smith has struggled with his shot in recent years. Since 2016-17, among the 115 players with at least as many three-point attempts, Smith ranks 66th in three-point percentage and 113th in true shooting percentage.
And after only appearing in 11 games in 2018-19, there may be some mystery as to how the shooting guard would look on an NBA floor in 2019-20.
Still, this is a volume shooter with plenty of regular and postseason experience. He's made nearly $90 million in salary over the course of his career. He'll almost certainly sign for a veteran minimum deal.
On that kind of contract, he makes sense in plenty of places around the league.
He probably shouldn't be tasked with the duties he had as a starting 2 for over 200 games in Cleveland, but as a 15-20-minute-per-night threat from deep, he could present value for a few contenders.
The Philadelphia 76ers underwent a fairly significant overhaul this summer. On top of a sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, they surprised a lot of NBA fans by signing center Al Horford to play power forward. They also re-signed Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million deal.
The resulting starting five will probably be: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Harris, Horford and Joel Embiid.
Positional overlap might actually be a good thing here. Horford has the range and footwork to keep up with most 4s, but he can also double as Embiid's backup. Think Derrick Favors' role with the Jazz the last couple seasons. Horford can start alongside Embiid, but the bulk of his minutes may come at center and with reserves.
The problem is that the reserves still leave a bit to be desired.
Kyle O'Quinn was a nice pickup, but his minutes may be tough to come by with Horford and Embiid on the roster. Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, James Ennis III, Jonas Bolden and Raul Neto all present varying levels of mystery and potential.
Adding another shooter like Smith on a veteran minimum deal would make sense for Philly.
He could help the starters too. The five listed above have combined to hit 1,652 threes in their careers. They're a combined 35.8 percent from deep. Smith has hit 37.3 percent of his career attempts from downtown for a total of 1,929.
A little boost in shooting could help a team that will struggle for spacing at times this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks have plenty of wings on the roster who will try to replace what was lost when Malcolm Brogdon went to the Indiana Pacers.
Wesley Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincenzo and George Hill all look like candidates to pick up some of the slack.
But Matthews is well past his prime; Brown and DiVincenzo are still inexperienced; Hill is more of a point guard; and Connaughton's career 34.9 percent from deep is below average.
Smith would bring his own question marks to the mix, but at least he would give Milwaukee another chance to replace some of the shooting it lost.
And Smith is already quite accustomed to playing with an MVP-caliber point forward. He's good at relocating off the ball and getting shots up quick off the catch.
If he's moving around the three-point line when Giannis Antetokounmpo drives, there should be at least one fewer defender who feels confident crashing down to help cut off Giannis.
This one may be contingent on another move, but it looks like the Miami Heat may be willing to make it.
"The market for Chris Paul is going to be small, but Miami's at the top of that list," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Jump. "They'd like to try to get that deal done as soon as they can."
Because Chris Paul is set to make $38.5 million next season, the Heat would have to put together multiple contracts to trade for him. A third team might need to be brought in, but Miami has some deals that add up to close enough to Paul's 2019-20 salary to work under the collective bargaining agreement.
Regardless of the combination (Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters could all be in play), the move would hurt the Heat's depth.
And because they'll be over the cap, veteran minimum deals might be the only way to remedy that problem.
With Butler and CP3, they'd have two ball-dominant players. Surrounding them with as much shooting as possible should be the goal. And Smith could provide a little spacing.
Houston's biggest move of the summer was jettisoning CP3 and multiple future picks for Russell Westbrook.
But even though Russ is four years younger and just won the MVP two seasons ago, that risk is not without some serious concerns. The downgrade in shooting is chief among them.
Even in a down year, CP3 was at 35.8 percent from three and right at the league average in true shooting percentage.
Recouping some of that lost efficiency could take some concessions from both Westbrook and the Rockets. Perhaps fewer pull-up threes from Russ or a general relaxing of the team's emphasis on the shot is in order.
But even those steps probably won't fully bridge the gap.
To take advantage of what is perhaps Westbrook's biggest strength (his ability and relentless in getting to the rim), he needs to be surrounded by shooters.
James Harden is obviously one of those. Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker have combined to shoot 36.5 percent from three in their two seasons together, which is not much better than league average over that span.
Smith may not fare much better than Gordon and Tucker, but he'd at least give Houston another option on the perimeter. Again, we're talking about a minimum deal and 15-20 minutes per game.
And because of his history as one of the NBA's prolific volume shooters, his mere presence at the three-point line may create a tad more space for the driving Westbrook and Harden.
Los Angeles Lakers
You had to know this was coming, right?
"When he's waived, it is my belief he will end up with the Lakers," Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports said of JR in late June.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has since disputed this, reporting on Monday that L.A. is "an unlikely destination." But until he signs elsewhere, the Lakers make too much sense to ignore.
Do the good memories outweigh the bad for LeBron?
In 2017, he posted the following about Smith on Instagram:
"Love you more than u can imagine as well as the family too! We been knowing each other going on 15 years now(since u were in HS) and the growth you’ve shown over time is a treat to watch. I’m happy personally to have a lil part of it my guy!"
These two have been through plenty of battles together. And again, they were teammates on the 2016 Cavs team that won a title.
But it will take more than sentimentality to make this reunion work.
Like the other teams on this list, the Los Angeles Lakers could use some more shooting. The question that applies with every potential destination is whether Smith can still provide it.
As he enters the twilight of his career, proving he still can play alongside the player with whom he has so much history could help Smith erase the demons of 2018.