Top Landing Spots for JR Smith During NBA's Transaction Window

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJune 24, 2020

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 29: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets puts pressure on J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on March 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Rockets defeated the Cavaliers 106-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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With NBA teams officially allowed to sign free agents during the current transaction window, JR Smith could finally be back in the league.

Teams can bring 17 total players with them to the Orlando bubble, 15 on standard contracts and two on two-way deals. Joakim Noah (Los Angeles Clippers), Corey Brewer (Sacramento Kings), David Nwaba (Houston Rockets) and Tyler Johnson (Brooklyn Nets) have already been signed.

Smith last played in the NBA as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 19, 2018. He was sent home by the team after it was clear it would be transitioning into a rebuild shortly into the season, months after losing LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.

Now 34, Smith can still fill minutes on a contender's bench as a spot-up shooter and wing defender. He's always been a great athlete, and at 6'6" and 225 pounds, he can play both shooting guard and small forward.

Placing him in a strong veteran locker room and with a head coach who will put him in a position to succeed is important since Smith was at his best as a starter with the Cavs while around players like James, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and James Jones.

With so many teams in need of shooting and wing defenders, these are the top landing spots for Smith.


Honorable Mentions

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have some of the best locker room chemistry, leadership and management of any NBA team this season. They may also offer the best chance at a starting job for Smith.

Terrance Ferguson and rookie Luguentz Dort have split starting duties at small forward for OKC, a position at which Smith could soak up major minutes. He's bigger than both and could space the floor for Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander while taking on larger wings defensively.

The Thunder's bench ranks 20th of the 22 teams heading to Orlando in three-point shooting (32.6 percent), Smith's main area of expertise.


Orlando Magic

With the Magic, Smith could be playing for a contract next year, as well.

They're already thin in the backcourt, and starting shooting guard Evan Fournier can become a free agent this offseason if he declines his $17 million player option. Outside of Fournier, no other Magic rotation player has shot over 35.7 percent from three this season.

The Magic need floor-spacers, especially with a loaded frontcourt and a point guard in Markelle Fultz who has knocked down just 25.4 percent of his triples this season. Orlando will either end up as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the East, meaning it'll need some more firepower and a ton of luck just to make a series interesting against the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors.

Smith can come into games and knock down a few three-pointers in a row, helping to (at least momentarily) turn the tide of a game.


Portland Trail Blazers

Trevor Ariza played great in his 21 games as the Blazers' starting small forward following a trade from the Sacramento Kings, but he will not be rejoining Portland during the season restart in order to take advantage of a visitation window with his 12-year-old son.

With Portland now on the lookout for wings, Smith could be a fit.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have done a great job setting a strong culture, and the idea of getting Smith for some intel in a potential first-round matchup against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers could be appealing.

Smith could be a rare veteran off the Blazers bench or slide into the starting small forward job with Ariza now out of the picture.


Top Landing Spots

Houston Rockets

It's almost surprising that Smith hasn't been a Rocket yet since they've been stockpiling players at the wing position all year.

At 6'6", he might even find himself playing power forward for a Houston team now dedicated to small-ball, and finding shooters to put around James Harden has long been a recipe for success.

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 15: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game on January 15, 2016 at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
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While few players can drive, draw extra defenders and make crosscourt passes to shooters like former Smith teammate LeBron James, both Harden and Russell Westbrook would make that shortlist. In terms of open looks, Smith may not find more anywhere else.

Eric Gordon has typically played the role of small-ball 3 quite well, but he's shooting just 37.0 percent overall and 31.9 percent from three this year. While Gordon has lost 12 pounds since the NBA went on hiatus to help prevent further knee injuries, having a backup plan in case he continues to struggle with his shot would be helpful.

On a team that makes (15.4) and takes (44.3) more threes per game than any other in the NBA, Smith would fit right in with the Rockets' style of play.


Milwaukee Bucks

Playing on a team with serious championship aspirations should be a good environment for Smith, especially with former teammates Kyle Korver and George Hill on board.

Shooting guard is the weakest of the Bucks' five starting positions with Wesley Matthews averaging just 7.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting overall. Donte DiVincenzo has played well as a rising star off the bench, but at age 23, he has yet to appear in a playoff game.

Elite as the Bucks are in some areas (sixth in offense, first in defense, first in net rating), they rank just 16th in three-point accuracy this season (35.6 percent). Of the nine Eastern Conference teams still in the running, Milwaukee is seventh in outside success.

Spacing will always be key around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks have found tremendous success by using the 6'11" big man at center in stretches with shooters all around. Adding Smith to a lineup of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Korver and Hill would create one of the best three-point-shooting units the postseason would have to offer.


Los Angeles Lakers

BOSTON, MA - MAY 27:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with JR Smith #5 in the second half against the Boston Celtics during Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 27, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Before the NBA went on hiatus, no team seemed more interested in Smith than the Lakers.

He worked out for the team on multiple occasions, most recently in early March even after L.A. had signed shooting guard Dion Waiters.

Previous experience with James can't be overlooked. While their working relationship came to an infamous end during the 2018 NBA Finals, years of success preceded it. Smith was the third-leading scorer behind James and Kyrie Irving in the 2016 NBA Finals, and he often took on the opponent's best wing defensively to help James save his energy for the offensive end.

"Get him here and I'll take care of it," James said when the Cleveland Cavaliers originally traded for Smith in 2015, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. "... I knew the man he was and I didn't really care about what everybody else thought of him."

Teams can never have enough shooters around James, and Smith could find minutes in a wing rotation that will now be without Avery Bradley. As ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported, Bradley is skipping the restart to stay with his family and his six-year-old son who may not have been medically cleared to enter the Orlando bubble. Wojnarowski also reported that Smith has "emerged as a leading candidate" to replace Bradley on the roster.

Smith fits the Lakers from an on-court standpoint, and he's also a Klutch client, which always helps when it comes to anything involving James.