J.R. Smith, the New York Knicks’ charismatic, enigmatic guard, has until June 26 to decide whether he is going to opt into the second and final year of his contract with the Knicks.
Smith signed with the Knicks in February, following a stint in China where he signed with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls during the lockout. The Knicks used their “stretch exception” to sign Smith – a two year, $5 million deal with a player option for the second year. With the deadline to opt in or opt out approaching, Smith must decide whether he wants to test the free agency market or stay with the Knicks, close to home.
The Knicks’ sixth man and New Jersey native isn’t sure what he will do, but Smith likes being close to home.
“I’m getting kind of spoiled right now, going up and down the Turnpike,” Smith said. “My mom’s right there. She’s cooking. She’s coming up to New York and cleaning my place.
“After having that, I think it’s going to be harder off the court than it will be on the court [to leave]. On the court basketball is basketball everywhere. But you got your family and friends and everybody, so it will be tough.”
Indeed, basketball is basketball for J.R. Smith; he who throws down windmill dunks down ten points in a playoff game, whose favorite shot is a stepback 20-footer – a shot too close to the hoop to count for three points, but too far away to ever be considered an easy shot.
However, it’s become increasingly harder to imagine Smith playing for another team next season. For one, Smith is a weapon off the bench, capable of absurd scoring outbursts, and capable of affecting the game in other ways. This past season, due to injuries on the Knicks, Smith was forced to handle the ball a bit more, and while certainly not an ideal situation, Smith lowered his turnover rate below his career average, while posting one of the higher assist rates in his career, and also posting the best assist-to-turnover ratio in his career. Also known as a lackluster defender, Smith put up a career high 1.5 steals per game this season and grabbed the second highest rebound rate of his career.
Likewise, Smith’s colorful off-court persona has grown on many fans. During the season he was fined for posting a picture of his scantily clad lady friend, in an event that while perhaps in poor taste, was also pretty harmless. His candid Twitter account is practically a play-by-play of his daily activities. He also recently organized an impromptu late night bike ride around New York City with some of his fans.
Smith can be frustrating on the court and a volatile personality in the locker room, but he is also endearing an undoubtedly one of the most talented sixth men in the league. If Smith is really concerned about winning, New York might be his best chance, and it would be a sign of maturity for Smith to take less than his market value and stay in New York to help the Knicks preserve cap space and add depth to the roster.
And after all, who doesn’t enjoy a home-cooked meal from their mom? I hope J.R. Smith stays.